A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask gets ready to take to the streets on Tuesday ahead of the ninth WTO ministerial conference in Denpasar, being held on the Indonesian island of Bali until Friday. India is opposing the current proposals on food subsidies. Photo: Reuters

Jakarta - Negotiators are seeking to salvage the credibility of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at a meeting in Bali this week, as the lack of agreement over farm subsidies threatens to paralyse 12 years of talks on a global trade pact.

The 159-member WTO had made more progress on the Doha round of talks in the last few months than in the past five years, spokesman Keith Rockwell said on Tuesday. Yet negotiators did not nail down a package of agreements for ministers to ratify in Bali, WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo said in Geneva ahead of this week’s meeting.

Failure to agree on a pact, which supporters estimated could boost the world economy by up to $1 trillion (R10 trillion), would call into question the effectiveness of the WTO and might mean the end of the Doha process, Azevedo said.

India is opposing the proposals on farm subsidies as a risk to its food security.

Rockwell said: “If we cannot deliver here it sends a very bad message about the WTO’s ability as a negotiating forum.”

Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan said trade facilitation and agriculture remained contentious topics, with India looking to subsidise up to 10 percent of certain food staples and the US against such a move. He said a deal that delivered even 5 percent of what the Doha round of talks aimed for would be better than nothing.

Negotiators in Geneva produced a compromise deal on November 13 to be agreed in Bali that would give India a four-year reprieve from legal challenges over its farm subsidies, said Daniel Pruzin, an analyst at Bloomberg BNA.

However, India wanted a permanent solution to its demands for amendments to WTO rules that would exempt food security programmes from being counted under subsidy spending caps, he said.

Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said on Monday that the rules for determining farm subsidies were outdated and noted that agricultural subsidies in developed countries were not even discussed.

He added that the second-most populous nation would not compromise on its food security at the talks.

Host Indonesia is keen for a positive outcome. Wirjawan said last week that there was a good chance of a package out of Bali, and called on his counterparts to find middle ground.

“Coming out of Bali with some tangible result is important for the longevity and the sustenance of our belief in the multilateral trading system,” he said this week. – Bloomberg