Randy Fabi


The World Trade Organization reached its first ever trade reform deal 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.


“For the first time in our history, the WTO has truly delivered,” WTO chief Roberto Azevedo told exhausted ministers after the talks which had dragged into an extra day on the tropical resort island.


“This time the entire membership came together. We have put the ‘world’ back in World Trade Organization,” he said. “We’re back in business…Bali is just the beginning.”


The talks, which had opened on Tuesday, nearly came unstuck at the last minute when Cuba suddenly refused to accept a deal that would not help pry open the U.S. embargo of the Caribbean island, forcing negotiations to drag into Saturday morning.


Cuba later agreed on a compromise with the United States.


The talks had begun under a cloud because of an insistence by India at the outset that it would only back an agreement if there was a compromise on food subsidies because of its massive program for stockpiling food to feed its poor.


India, which will holds elections next year, won plaudits at home for taking a stand on behalf of the world’s poor.


An eventual compromise was greeted with jubilation by Trade Minister Anand Sharma. While India had insisted on a permanent exemption from the WTO rules, the final text aimed to recommend a permanent solution within four years.


But the agreement is a milestone for the 159 WTO members, marking the organization’s first global trade agreement since it was created in 1995.


It also rescues the WTO 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. 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.


It still needs to be approved by each member government.


“It is good for both developed and developing members alike,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said.


Red Tape


A study by the Washington, D.C.-based Peterson Institute of 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 slashes red tape at customs around the world, gives improved terms of trade to the poorest countries, and allows developing countries to skirt the normal rules on farm subsidies if they are trying to feed the poor.


The ministers had gathered with a clear warning that failure to reach agreement in Bali would turn the WTO into an irrelevance and trigger a rush towards regional and bilateral trade pacts.


It came almost 20 years to the day since a similar nail-biting conclusion to another marathon negotiation – the talks to agree the creation of the WTO itself, which wrapped up in mid-December 1993. That was the last global trade deal.


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.


The Bali accord will help revive confidence in the WTO’s ability to negotiate global trade deals, after it consistently failed to clinch agreement in the Doha round of talks that started in 2001 and proved hugely over-ambitious.


As the Doha round stuttered to a halt, momentum shifted away from global trade pacts in favor of regional deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the United States is negotiating with 11 other countries, and a similar agreement it is pursuing bilaterally with the European Union.


No distinction between majority & minority community in new draft: Government


[NEW DELHI: The government has defended the revised bill aimed at preventing communal violence, with an official saying that the new draft addressed the key concern of the BJP as it did not make any distinction between the majority community and the minority community.


The earlier draft prepared by the National Advisory Committee (NAC) in 2011 was bitterly opposed by the principal opposition, BJP, on the grounds that it pre-supposed the majority community as the tormentor in a situation of communal riots and the minority community as the sufferer.


It had defined the affected group in the crime as “a religious or linguistic minority in any state”. However, the new draft circulated to all states is neutral in this regard, a senior government official said. The new draft says violence against persons “having a particular religious and linguistic identity” will be termed as communal violence, thereby ensuring that communal violence against any set of persons will be considered a crime. The new draft terms hate propaganda, organized communal violence, financial aid to such violence and mental or physical torture to any person as a crime under the new bill.


The new draft also designates the District Magistrate or the Commissioner of Police in the state as the “competent authority” to declare an area as communally disturbed and subsequently exercise powers and functions assigned to them under the Act to prevent and control the violence. “If the state government is of the opinion that assistance of the central government is required for controlling the communal violence, it may seek the assistance of the central government to deploy armed forces of the Union for such purposes, and the central government shall deploy forces of the Union in the areas notified by the competent authority,” the new draft says. A government official said this could hardly be construed as an infringement of the federal structure since the right to declare the area as communally disturbed and calling for central forces was still with the state.


The government also defended the concept of fixing responsibility for breach of command and dereliction of duty of public servants in communal violence situations, saying that has been done as per National Advisory Council’s suggestions since there have been instances where public servants have turned a blind eye to controlling communal violence situations or acted inadequately by purpose. Such individuals could face a two to five-year jail term under the revised bill.


(Reuter, Nusa Dua,  Indonesia, Dec 7, 2013)

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