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WTO deal could boost global commerce by $1 trillion annually

John Heilprin Associated Press

GENEVA – After many years of talking, the World Trade Organization pulled off a major deal Thursday that the body said could boost global commerce by $1 trillion annually.

Diplomats said the deal is the first multilateral trade agreement in the organization’s 20-year history. Agreement has been difficult to reach because WTO deals require the unanimous backing of its 160 member countries.

“Once in force, it will help developing countries better integrate into the global economy, intensify regional integration and lift millions out of poverty,” said European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said the deal is now operational but will come into force once two-thirds of the members have officially accepted it.

After months of stalemate and years of negotiation, a U.S.-India deal this month over food stockpiling by India cleared the way for the agreement. India had insisted on subsidizing grains under a national policy to support hundreds of millions of impoverished farmers and provide food security amid high inflation, a stand that had blocked the talks since July.

Critics worry that the agreement could make it harder for countries to set their own priorities on environmental and labor protections, food security and other trade-related issues. The WTO has said, however, that the Trade Facilitation Agreement could increase total world trade to $23 trillion from its current estimate of $22 trillion.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the WTO “has taken a critical step forward.” The deal “has the potential to fundamentally reform global customs practices and substantially reduce the costs and time associated with goods crossing borders,” he said.

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