Nusa Dua - Commerce ministers engaged in an eleventh-hour flurry of diplomacy on Friday, hoping to save a WTO package amid stark warnings that failure would permanently cripple the body's trade-liberalisation drive.
New WTO chief Roberto Azevedo of Brazil is pushing for agreement on a modest trade package at the conference on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
He is hoping the limited measures can buy the World Trade Organization time for a future kick-start of its larger “Doha Round” of global negotiations aimed at stripping away trade barriers.
“There has been progress, there has been progress,” said WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell.
“There were consultations through the night. The reaction has been, we are not there yet.”
The Bali ministerial conference opened Tuesday under a cloud due to India's insistence that it be allowed to stockpile and subsidise grain for its millions of hungry poor.
The United States and others oppose that, saying it violates WTO rules on subsidies and fear the grain could enter markets, skewing world prices.
“This is a fundamental issue. We will never compromise,” Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma told reporters.
Ministers have warned that failure to reach a compromise on that and other issues in Bali could provide the nail in the coffin for the body's 12-year-old, stalemated Doha Round.
The Doha Round talks were launched in Qatar in 2001, aiming to create an open trading environment and rules that are fair to both rich and poor countries.
But protectionist disputes, particularly between the industrialised and developing worlds, have made progress elusive.
Officials said Azevedo, Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan, US Trade Representative Michael Froman, and Sharma held various meetings into the early hours of Friday.
Negotiations were still continuing.
The conference, held roughly every two years to try to push forward global trade talks, was set to formally end at 4:00 pm (10:00 SA time) - Sapa-AFP