Business: WTO Negotiations Near Conclusion with Little Progress Made

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Negotiations at the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Abu Dhabi on Thursday were extended for another day, with the WTO announcing the closing session had been delayed, and no sign of a breakthrough in talks to set new global commerce rules.

The biennial conference is seeking deals on ending fishing subsidies and extending a moratorium on digital trade tariffs — a move that India and South Africa oppose.

Trade delegates were expecting negotiations to carry on throughout the night as officials sought to hammer out agreements on a cross-section of changes to trade rules. The scheduled announcement of a final agreement after four days of intergovernmental talks was pushed back for a fifth day until 2pm on Friday in the Gulf state. Some participants expressed skepticism that a deal would be reached by then, telling Reuters that serious differences remained on a range of issues meant to address global trade.

“Tense! Difficult,” said one delegate on condition of anonymity.

New Zealand’s trade minister Todd McClay said it was a good sign that delegates were still trying to thrash out issues and expected this to continue late into the night. However, McClay, who is the facilitator on talks to extend a 25-year moratorium on digital tariffs, said there had been no movement yet on overcoming a deadlock.

India’s trade minister said it was a shame some nations were blocking agreements, but he gave little sign that New Delhi would drop its opposition to extending a waiver on digital tariffs. Still, he voiced optimism that such outcomes could be achieved in the talks.

A grouping of Pacific islands, including Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, were also opposing a draft deal on changes to fisheries subsidies, with Fiji’s deputy prime minister telling Reuters it did not go far enough. India’s Goyal did not name the countries that he said were blocking results at the talks. But he said his top priority was fixing the WTO’s dispute system, adding he had raised the lack of progress with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai in a Wednesday meeting.

“The first and highest priority is to get the Appellate Body of the dispute resolution mechanism in place because without that all the decisions we are taking cannot be adjudicated upon,” he said.

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