Ministers from around the globe have until Friday to rescue talks on a global free trade agreement. If they fail, the World Trade Organization (WTO) might be cast into obsolescence as bilateral accords come into focus.
The four-day talks which started in the Indonesian resort of Bali on Tuesday were widely seen to be a make-or-break affair for the World Trade Organization (WTO) as it struggled to come up with a global free trade agreement.
Such an accord would be the first since the WTO was called into being in 1995 and would have a huge impact particularly on poorer nations as it would set standards for handling cross-border shipment of goods, making customs authorities help rather than hinder business operations.
That would be even more important than abolishing tariffs globally, since bureaucracy and opaque rules are a bigger brake on trade.
Political resolve required
But if such an agreement does not come about, the WTO may see its role as a global custodian of trade rules being eroded by regional trade agreements already in the bag or currently negotiated, such as the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and a US-EU free trade deal yet to be hammered out.
But the chances for success in Bali are not too high, with the 159 WTO members already having pushed the crisis to the brink by failing to finalize the text for the deal earlier on.
The WTO has already lowered its expectations since a decade of Doha talks broke down, forcing the body to focus on less ambitious aspects.
The agenda for the Bali meeting has already suffered a setback as talks on free trade in technology goods collapsed last month after China insisted on too many exemptions.
WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo told the US newspaper the Wall Street Journal he was nevertheless confident a deal could be reached in Bali.
"The remaining obstacles are very few, well-defined and difficult to solve, if we have political engagement and political will," Azevedo maintained.
hg/hc (Reuters, dpa)