(Bloomberg) --

The World Trade Organization’s 11th-hour negotiations resumed early Friday as ministers tried to bridge gaps on key measures governing food security, fishing subsidies and the global internet.

The final gathering, pushed back twice, is set for 2pm Abu Dhabi time. At morning sessions, officials were still fine-tuning texts of agreements on several issues, as well as trying to fix a crippled system to litigate trade disputes. Previous biennial meetings of the WTO have stretched beyond the official agenda, with some even ending without agreements.

“There is a lot of pessimism around here,” Simon Coveney, Ireland’s trade minister, said in an interview Thursday on Bloomberg TV. “But sometimes that happens before agreements, when you have difficult discussions which undoubtedly are taking place now. But I think in all likelihood this will probably be extending tomorrow.”

WTO spokesman Ismaila Dieng said the talks have been challenging “because of interlinkages between the areas under negotiation,” adding that “there is a commitment to keep pushing for a successful conclusion.”

India reiterated on Thursday that it is willing to engage on all issues and asked countries to work toward achieving some objectives to cement trust between less-developed, developing and developed economies in a highly fragmented geopolitical world.

For the world’s most populous nation, the top priority is restoring the functioning of the WTO’s appellate body, part of a dispute-resolution system that was disabled by the US in 2019.

“All decisions have to be fair and equitable. Decisions should be transparent and should lead to generating confidence that WTO matters,” India’s Trade Minister Piyush Goyal told reporters on the sidelines of the 13th WTO ministerial conference. 

“I am getting a sense that we are losing track of core issues of WTO and getting diverted into non-core issues,” he said. “We need to generate trust and confidence for the future.”

Competing Interests

His comments come as more than 160 member nations of the Geneva-based trade body conduct 11th-hour bargaining sessions on the last scheduled day of the conference. They’re trying to converge on issues ranging from renewing e-commerce moratorium and cutting down subsidies leading to overfishing to public procurement of grains for free food program.

“If you have a small number of countries this week trying to block an extension of e-commerce moratorium, the other countries on a plurilateral basis will probably go ahead and do it anyway,” Ireland’s Coveney said.

Speaking about a domestic food-security issue, Goyal said countries should work toward finding a permanent solution to the public stockholding of grains for food security program, an issue that has been pending for more than a decade now. 

He said it was time the nations agreed to revising the methodology for calculating subsidies and update it based on current prices. India is the world’s No. 2 wheat consumer and is also the top exporter of rice.

According to a draft WTO statement on agriculture seen by Bloomberg News, “a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes shall be available to all developing country Members.” The text of the draft was still being negotiated as of 3:30 local time.

A spokesman for the Indian delegation couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Coveney urged a careful approach balancing food security and a level playing field.

“We need to make sure that doesn’t lead to the effective dumping of large amounts of that stock on international markets in a way that undermine the price of those commodities in the future, because that undermines global trade,” he said.

With several sticky issues still being worked out, delegates have been discussing various options including either concluding the ministerial meeting without a final joint statement of unanimity or a watered-down version with a chair’s declaration on some unresolved topics, Bloomberg News earlier reported.

The heads of the delegations are scheduled to meet at 9 p.m. local time try to hammer out any deals ahead of the midnight closing session. 

--With assistance from Vonnie Quinn.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.