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India 'will honour' WTO trade deal pledge

India will keep a pledge to ratify a trillion-dollar global pact on easing trade restrictions, a minister told local media on Saturday (Aug 16), adding negotiations with fellow World Trade Organisation members had not hit a "dead end".

NEW DELHI: India will keep a pledge to ratify a trillion-dollar global pact on easing trade restrictions, a minister told local media on Saturday (Aug 16), adding negotiations with fellow World Trade Organisation members had not hit a "dead end".

Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's remarks to NDTV network marked a softer public tone to India's stance on the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) - a universal customs clearance deal which would mark the first big global trade liberalisation deal in two decades.

She said she wanted to stress the WTO negotiation process "certainly has not hit a dead end", after New Delhi refused to ratify the accord in down-to-the-wire negotiations last month at the organisation's Geneva headquarters.

India is seeking to wrest concessions from developed nations on allowing food subsidies for its poor.

"We are agreeing to everything done in Bali, we are not saying we are going to dishonour that commitment, we will honour that commitment," Sitharaman said. All 160 WTO members, including India, agreed to the accord at the December 2013 meeting on the Indonesian holiday island.

But at the same time she reiterated India must have the right to ensure food security for its hundreds of millions of poor farmers and consumers through grain subsidies that developed nations regard as distorting trade.

The minister's remarks came after visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry told new Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month that New Delhi's stance on the pact sent the wrong message about his pro-business government's desire to liberalise India's economy, which remains state dominated.

Modi told Kerry that developed nations must "understand the challenges of poverty" in developing nations.

Experts believe the trade facilitation pact could boost global commerce by US$1 trillion by modernising and streamlining trade rules to allow goods to pass more easily through customs.

According to the Bali-agreed timetable, the TFA was due to go into effect in mid-2015 after what WTO officials had expected to be its rubber-stamp ratification last month. At the time of the Bali accord, the trade body's members agreed on a four-year "peace clause" to protect India from WTO action over subsidies and stockpiles until a "permanent" solution" was reached.

But after the Bali pact, Indian officials complained there were nearly two dozen meetings on the trade pact and just a handful on farm subsidies. The commerce minister called India's last-minute refusal to ratify the pact "a little course correction (that was) desperately needed".

WTO diplomats are on a month-long summer break but Indian officials would "engage" with the organisation after their return, she said.

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