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WTO fails to agree key trade deal

The World Trade Organization (WTO) on Thursday (July 31) said its 160 members had failed to agree a landmark global customs pact in a move the US said left the body on "uncertain new ground".

GENEVA: The World Trade Organization (WTO) on Thursday (July 31) said its 160 members had failed to agree a landmark global customs pact in a move the US said left the body on "uncertain new ground".

"We have not been able to find a solution that would allow us to bridge the gap," WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo said in a statement after the passing of a July 31 deadline for the deal.

A draft of the so-called Trade Facilitation Agreement, which would streamline global customs procedures, was agreed at a Bali conference in December last year and was meant to be finalised this month but rifts between members, particularly over demands from India that the world body gives the green light to the developing power's stockpiling of food, had threatened to scuttle the long-sought deal.

Azevedo urged members to reflect long and hard on the ramifications of this setback. US ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke said the failure to agree a deal has put this institution on very uncertain new ground.

"We are obviously sad and disappointed that a very small handful of countries were unwilling to keep their commitments from the December conference in Bali," Punke said after the meeting in Geneva.

Throughout Thursday, Azevedo held talks with coordinators of regional groups within the WTO to try to find a way forward, but without success. At the end of the evening, he held brief closed-door talks with representatives of all 160 members before announcing that an agreement had proved elusive.

India is refusing to ratify the deal, reportedly because it is unhappy with other trade negotiations over both food stocks and farm subsidies. That obstacle has already sparked criticism from the European Union and a group of 25 developed and emerging countries.

The United States has warned that the blockage could threaten wider future talks on global trade -- the so-called "Doha round". Earlier, there had been hopes that a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in New Delhi at the head of a strong delegation, could help unblock the talks.

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