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[GENEVA] The World Trade Organization adopted the first worldwide trade reform in its history on Thursday, after years of stalemate, months of deadlock and a final day's delay following an eleventh-hour objection.
The agreement means the WTO will introduce new standards for customs checks and border procedures. Proponents say that will streamline the flow of trade around the world, adding as much as US$1 trillion and 21 million jobs to the world economy.
"It's all agreed," a WTO official said outside the closed-door WTO meeting in Geneva, after trade diplomats applauded the end of their 19-year wait for a deal.
Still, the agreement is just a fraction of the original Doha Round of trade talks begun in 2001, which eventually proved impossible to agree on. The WTO cut back its ambitions and aimed for a much smaller deal.
Even that was blocked by a four-month standoff caused by India, which had vetoed adoption of the reform package as the original deadline passed at midnight on July 31.
India demanded more attention be given to its plans to stockpile subsidised food, in breach of the WTO's usual rules. A compromise on wording reached by the US and Indian governments broke the deadlock.
The reform package adopted on Thursday was agreed at a WTO meeting in Bali in December last year. Its passage is widely seen as opening up progress towards further global negotiations, the content of which is due be laid down by July 2015.
That should reassure smaller nations in the 160-member WTO. Many had feared India's tough stance would prompt the United States and the European Union to turn their backs on the WTO and concentrate on smaller trading clubs instead, ending hopes of trade reforms benefiting all.
Thursday's deal had originally been due for agreement on Wednesday, but an objection by Argentina forced its postponement for 24 hours.