GENEVA (Reuters) - World Trade Organization chief Roberto Azevedo will begin consulting with WTO ambassadors on Wednesday to try to work out how to pick up the pieces after global trade negotiations appeared to suffer a final defeat on Tuesday.
“Whether, and how, we make progress will be in your hands,” Azevedo told the envoys at a meeting of the WTO General Council.
Some diplomats had said the meeting was the final deadline for India to stop blocking a global agreement or they might give up negotiating and split off into smaller groups instead. That would undermine the role of the WTO, which is based on global rules accepted by all its members.
India plunged the WTO back into stalemate in July, just months after the 160-member trade body appeared to have struck the first global deal in its 19-year history.
Although the agreement was a modest success, streamlining and standardizing customs rules around the world, diplomats had high hopes that it would be a springboard to new talks.
But India has resisted pressure to give way, insisting that its demand to be allowed to stockpile subsidized food be approved in parallel with the new customs rules. Senior officials at the Indian Trade Ministry have said that New Delhi remains committed to its stance.
WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said he had never seen a similar situation at the agency, which has been dogged by “impasse” in multilateral trade negotiations for a decade.
“(There have been) some pretty horrific situations but this is a unique one in its uncertainty and complexity,” he said after the General Council meeting, one of the shortest on record.
Azevedo said last Thursday that “a continuation of the current paralysis would serve only to degrade the institution” and he saw little hope of a breakthrough. Since then, none of the WTO members are known to have contacted Azevedo to report any progress.
“He’s not warning members about an impending crisis, he said we’re in the middle of it now,” Rockwell said.
After a week of consultations with WTO members, Azevedo will convene their ambassadors next Thursday to give an update on progress.
Trade experts say that the WTO still has an important role as a forum for settling commercial disputes, but that role will be degraded and increasingly obsolete if its two-decade-old trade rules do not evolve.
Additional reporting by Manoj Kumar in New Delhi, editing by Mark Heinrich