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India under fire as food impasse imperils WTO

NUSA DUA, Indonesia--India on Thursday faced mounting pressure to compromise in a global impasse over food security that has cast the future of the World Trade Organization into doubt.

New Delhi's insistence that it be allowed to stockpile and subsidize grain for its millions of hungry poor has emerged as a major stumbling block at a WTO conference of trade ministers in Bali.

The WTO has warned that failure to reach a compromise on that and other issues could provide the nail in the coffin for the body's 12-year-old effort to remove trade barriers, which is at a stalemate.

“This is a fundamental issue. We will never compromise,” Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma told reporters.

The WTO launched its main “Doha Round” of talks in Qatar in 2001, aiming to create an open trading environment and rules that are fair to both rich and poor countries.

But protectionist disputes, particularly between the industrialized and developing worlds, have made progress elusive.

New WTO chief Roberto Azevedo of Brazil is pushing for an agreement in Bali on a more modest package touching on agricultural subsidies and other issue, hoping that can keep Doha on life-support.

French Foreign Trade Minister Nicole Bricq pointedly said India will be held responsible for any failure.

“India has a huge responsibility ... I don't mean to be critical but when you are a big power, you accept such responsibilities,” she said.

With the clock ticking on the four-day conference, which ends Friday, diplomatic efforts stepped up.

Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan, chair of the talks, said he and Azevedo were seeking to broker a compromise between India and the United States.

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