World Trade Organization's deal goes back to drawing board for 'new phase' of uncertainty

GENEVA – The World Trade Organization began regrouping Friday to see whether it is still possible to finalize a major deal to boost global trade after a deadline passed to formally adopt it.

The preliminary deal approved by the organization at a WTO summit last December in Bali was estimated to increase world trade by $1 trillion over time. The centerpiece of the eleventh-hour deal was an agreement on measures to ease barriers to trade by simplifying customs procedures and making them more transparent.

But difficult topics of agriculture, market access and services were left unfinished in that deal and WTO members had been due to finalize the terms before Friday.

Key disagreements included India’s demand for exemptions to its broad government food subsidies to its farmers and poor consumers that have allegedly undercut fair-market agriculture prices. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker travelled to India where they met Thursday with government officials to try to salvage a deal.

The deadline’s passing left the Geneva-based organization’s 159 member economies scrambling to figure out what they could do next.

“The fact we do not have a conclusion means that we are entering a new phase in our work – a phase which strikes me as being full of uncertainties,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said in a statement addressed to member countries.

“We have a natural hiatus in our calendar as people leave for the summer break in the coming days,” he said. “So I invite you all to use this time to think carefully about what the next steps might be. I urge you to reflect long and hard on the ramifications of this setback.”