Trading nations are achingly close to a draft deal on easing barriers to global commerce as a crunch summit looms and must redouble efforts to complete it, the WTO's chief said yesterday.
"We are too close to success to accept failure," Roberto Azevedo told a session of the World Trade Organisation. "Therefore, the only option is to make a last-ditch attempt."
Negotiators are working round the clock at the WTO's Geneva headquarters to try to bridge differences between rich countries, emerging powers and the world's poorest nations over the give and take needed to yield a deal at a December 3-6 summit of trade ministers in Bali.
Azevedo, Brazil's former trade envoy who took over as WTO director general in September, has been holding what sources described as a "meat grinder" series of talks with individual nations, small groups and the full membership to try to close the gaps.
"We must intensify our work for this final push over the next few days. I repeat, we have to close this in the next few days," Azevedo said.
The WTO's ruling body, the General Council, is scheduled on November 21 to decide whether it can put a deal on the table for ministers to sign off on in Bali.
"There is really no prospect of negotiating in Bali. It won't happen," a trade source said.
The Bali summit is seen as perhaps the last chance to revive the WTO's so-called "Doha round" of talks, launched in 2001 at a summit in Qatar.
The goal of the round is to craft a wide-ranging global accord on opening markets and removing trade barriers to harness international commerce to develop poorer economies.
WTO rules require such deals to be unanimous, but bitter differences over the concessions required have fuelled clashes notably between China, the European Union, India and the United States, leaving the talks stalled for years and leading many countries to shift their focus to bilateral and regional deals.
No results in Bali would mean no serious WTO negotiations for a long time, trade sources said, underlining that regional deals tended to involve rich countries or emerging powers, meaning the poorest nations would be sidelined.
Negotiators have long written off the chances of the Bali summit providing a massive energy boost to the Doha round, but, mindful of the symbolism inherent in total failure, they have continued to grasp at potential lower-level accords that could be fed into the wider package later.