India endorses draft WTO deal

India Friday approved the draft of a multilateral trade reforms package, clearing the way for the first global trade deal in almost two decades.

"We are more than happy. It is a great day. It is a historic day," Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said after four days of marathon and intensive negotiations among ministers IN Nusa Dua (Indonesia) got over.

Emerging from the talks, Sharma said he would endorse the draft text of the agreement on the so-called Bali Package circulated by WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo to negotiating heads of member countries late Friday.

"It is a victory for the WTO and for the global community to have arrived at a mature decision," he said.

The draft agreement is a significant victory for India whose programme of stocking subsidized food grain to ensure cheaper food for its people was considered to have blocked the progress of negotiations.

On Thursday, Sharma reaffirmed India's stance calling food security "a fundamental issue", and added that "India will never compromise".

Trading partners say the food security programme contravenes WTO rules, which limit farm subsidies, and there are concerns India could use the policy to export food at cheaper prices, thus distorting the market.

The agreement would allow developing countries farm subsidies for food security of their people, improves terms of trade to the Least Developed Countries, and cuts customs rules around the world.

The latest draft texts are the product of weeks of intensive negotiations held in Geneva before the Ministerial Meeting. They were further refined after round-the-clock consultations at the conference.

Officials said WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan, US Trade Representative Michael Froman, and Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma held various parleys into the early hours of Friday.

The drafts concern three areas - agriculture, trade facilitation and LDC trade and development.

There are four issues in agriculture out of a larger set negotiated in the Doha Round. These included:

-- General services: A proposed list of general services of particular interest to developing countries that would be added to the "Green Box" - the category of domestic support that is considered not to distort trade (or to distort minimally) and therefore allowed without any limits.

-- Developing countries' public stockholding of food for food security.

-- Tariff quota administration: A proposal to deal with the way a specific type of import quota ("tariff quotas") is to be handled when the quota is persistently under-filled.

-- Export competition, the collective term for export subsidies and other policies with similar effects.

The LDC trade draft covers:

-- Duty-free, quota-free access for least developed countries to export to richer countries' markets.

-- Simplified preferential rules of origin for least developed countries, making it easier for these countries to identify products as their own products and qualify for preferential treatment in importing countries.

-- A "services waiver", allowing least developed countries preferential access to richer countries' services markets.

-- A "monitoring mechanism", consisting of meetings and other methods for monitoring special treatment given to developing countries.

Trade facilitation aims at cutting red tape and streamlining customs and port procedures.