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May 30, 2017

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India holds firm on blocking global customs deal, awaits WTO assurances

NEW DELHI -- India on Friday said it wanted "visible" signs the World Trade Organization would agree to its vast food subsidy schemes before approving a landmark global customs pact as talks went down to the wire.

Refusal by India to endorse the agreement streamlining customs procedures could derail the first big global trade reform by the WTO in two decades.

The deal must be ratified by all WTO members by July 31 and is to be implemented in mid-2015.

But Indian Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told parliament New Delhi "would find it difficult to join the consensus" unless it gets WTO assurances on freedom to roll out food security programs for its hundreds of millions of poor.

Sitharaman's statement came as WTO members were in Geneva for what was envisioned as rubber-stamp approval of the Trade Facilitation Agreement or TFA, reached in Bali last year.

The agreement is aimed at lowering trade barriers and spurring trade between developing and developed countries and could add US$1 trillion to the global economy, WTO officials say.

While there has been progress on the trade deal, other decisions on food stockpiling and other development issues "have been sidelined," Sitharaman said.

India wants "visible outcomes" demonstrating WTO members "will engage in negotiations with commitment to find a permanent solution on public stockholding," she said.

Separately, India's government in a statement late Friday said it had told fellow WTO members it lacked "trust that there will be constructive engagement on issues that impact the livelihood of a very significant part of the global population."

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