BALI, Indonesia (AP) — Cuba and three other Latin American countries refused to sign off on a World Trade Organization agreement early Saturday that had appeared close to approval after negotiations that dragged on through the night.
Dozens of trade ministers were presented with a draft of a slimmed-down deal that satisfied India, which had earlier refused to budge on a provision that could endanger subsidies for grains under a policy to feed its poor.
After consensus appeared close among the 159 WTO member economies, Cuba, backed by Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua rejected it due to removal of a reference to the decades-long U.S. trade embargo that Cuba wants lifted.
"We need to continue our consultations and find a way to overcome this problem," WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters.
Trade ministers had come to the four-day WTO meetings on Indonesia's resort island of Bali with little hope that an agreement to boost world trade would be reached.
But after draft proposals released late Friday put the food subsidy issue on the backburner, hope for a deal emerged. The proposals also call for customs procedures to be simplified and more transparent to reduce barriers to trade.
The deal could boost global trade by $1 trillion over time and help revive the WTO's broader Doha Round of trade negotiations, sometimes known as the development round because of sweeping changes in regulations, taxes and subsidies that would benefit low income countries.
The idea is that if all countries play by the same trade rules, then all countries, rich or poor, will benefit. But some critics say WTO rules may hinder countries from setting their own priorities in environmental protection, worker rights, food security and other areas. And they say sudden reductions in import tariffs can wipe out industries, causing job losses in rich and poor countries.
The meetings in Bali were seen as crucial after more than a decade of inertia, with failure possibly signaling an end to the WTO's relevance as a forum for trade negotiations among its 159 member economies.
Associated Press writer Kay Johnson in Mumbai, India, contributed to this report.
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