MAIL TODAY COMMENT: Bali WTO reform a real game changer
Just when one thought the jinxed World Trade Organization was set to fail yet again, a miraculous last minute cliffhanger trade reform deal was reached on Saturday to the roar of approval from nearly 160 ministers who had gathered on the Indonesian island of Bali to decide on the make-or-break agreement that could add $1 trillion to the global economy.
The approval came after Cuba dropped a last-gasp threat to veto the package of measures.
India's trade minister Anand Sharma (centre) arrives at the ninth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Nusa Dua, Bali
At the core of the dispute remained food security which saw many an ugly fracas.
India's stated position from the outset was that any agreement had to take care of its concerns over food security.
India could not seek any compromise on food subsidies because of its massive programme for stockpiling food to feed its poor.
India was thus at the vanguard of this debate and it did not buckle under any pressure, winning the hearts and minds of not just Indians but the community of the world's poor.
In the past India has been blamed for taking a strident position on farm subsidies. In fact, former trade minister Kamal Nath had won many an admirer in the developing world for not buckling under pressure from the developed biggies on the hopes and aspirations of Indian farmers.
The commerce and industry minister gave no quarter nor asked for any. While India had insisted on a permanent exemption from the WTO rules, the final text aimed to recommend a permanent solution within four years.
The first ever trade deal since 1995 when WTO talks began rescued it from the brink of failure and will rekindle confidence in its ability to lower barriers to trade worldwide, after 12 years of fruitless negotiations.
The deal would lower trade barriers and speed up the passage of goods through customs.
Free-flowing trade without borders is an ideal world and while every government has to ink this deal individually, a brand new beginning has been made.
Analysts estimate that over time it could boost the world economy by hundreds of billions of dollars and create more than 20 million jobs, mostly in developing countries.
A study by the Washington, D.C.-based Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated the agreement would inject $960 billion into the global economy and create 21 million jobs, 18 million of them in developing nations.
The deal is a game-changer as it is set to cut red tape at customs around the world, gives improved terms of trade to the poorest countries, and allows developing countries to circumvent the normal rules on farm subsidies if they are trying to feed the poor.
The Bali meeting was also noticeable for its lack of anti-WTO protests compared to the street battles when ministers met in Seattle 14 years ago.
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