Egypt says it is working towards providing a compromise deal to save last year's WTO Bali agreement, which has stalled since India opposed the deal on the basis of food security concerns, announced Mounir Fakhry, minister of trade, industry and small and medium enterprises, in a press conference on Tuesday.
Roberto Azevedo, director general of the World Trade Organisation, says that Egypt's status as a leading developing country qualifies it as a mediator in the dispute.
"Egypt is one of the developing countries that does not mind trade facilitation but has concerns over food security, yet the question is how to address the concerns without hindering the Bali agreement," Azevedo said at Tuesday's conference.
The press conference followed Azevedo's meeting with Egypt's Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and comes before his meeting with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to discuss Egypt's role in progressing with the Bali agreement.
At the end of last year, WTO members agreed in Bali on a legally binding trade facilitation agreement expected to benefit the world economy with a value between $400 billion and $1 trillion and reduce trade costs by 10-15 percent.
The Bali deal – coming after 12 years of discussions since talks in Doha in 2001 – was the first among all WTO members in the organisation's 20 years.
The agreement was not final, however, and awaited ratification on 31 July – which India opposed on concerns of its rights to subsidise farmers and stockpile grains.
"The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is going through a sensitive period following the 31 July setback," said Azevedo on Tuesday.
One month ahead of the Bali meeting, a compromise text was agreed upon stating that members would temporarily refrain from lodging a legal complaint if a developing country exceeded limits to buy from farmers at supported prices in order to build up stocks.
In Bali, WTO members agreed on a timeframe of four years of negotiations on food security issues – but then India insisted on settling the issue before ratification, said Fakhry.
"Egypt's proposal covers the technical process, but the most important suggestion is to drop deadlines and let negotiations take as long as they need to reach an agreement," added Fakhry.
The WTO will hold two weeks of intensive consultations in Geneva followed by a meeting at the highest level to determine results, said Azevedo.
"I hope Egypt will be an active participant in finding a solution," the WTO general director said.
The WTO is also in the process of establishing a new fund meant to provide technical assistance to developing countries to help proceed with trade facilitation measures, he added.