WTO members agree to $1T trade deal in Bali

The United States and 158 other World Trade Organization members agreed Saturday to a $1 trillion trade deal during a meeting in Bali, Indonesia. 
 
The deal is the first major global agreement since the WTO was started in 1995. Members had worried that, after a dozen years of failed talks, the WTO had turned into nothing more than a court for trade disputes. 
 
Congress might have a chance to vote on the deal, which is not a treaty, if it requires legislative changes. It remains unclear if the administration will seek any congressional vote. 
 
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said, "as in any context for a trade agreement negotiation and implementation, we are always in consultation with our Congress on appropriate procedures."
 
WTO agreements must be unanimous, so getting one is very hard. At the last minute, for example, Cuba temporarily stalled the deal when it and allies made a play to have the U.S. give up its embargo, which violates U.S. WTO commitments to other members. 
 
The Bali deal covers customs, agriculture and assistance for the world's impoverished, least developed nations. 
 
ADVERTISEMENT
It pales in comparison to the ambitions of the failed Doha round of trade talks, which sought to break down larger barriers to industrial and farm goods as well as barriers to immigration. 
 
Those matters are increasingly being dealt with in regional free trade deals instead of global talks. The U.S. is trying to finalize a TransPacific Partnership trade deal, and Congress is gearing up to grant President Obama enhanced powers to complete the agreement. 
 
For example, instead of guaranteeing duty-free access for goods for poor countries, the Bali deal contains a vaguer commitment to do so in the future.
 
Members nonetheless hailed their achievement, which, by some estimates, could add $1 trillion in economic growth worldwide. 
 
"I'm delighted at the news this morning of the global trade deal in Bali," European Union President Jose Manuel Barroso said. "This will give a real boost to the global economy." 
 
"It took us until Saturday, one extra day, but indeed, the WTO has entered a new era,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael B.G. FromanOn The Money: Sanders unveils plan to wipe .6T in student debt | How Sanders plan plays in rivalry with Warren | Treasury watchdog to probe delay of Harriet Tubman bills | Trump says Fed 'blew it' on rate decision Democrats give Trump trade chief high marks US trade rep spent nearly M to furnish offices: report MORE said. “For the first time in its almost 20-year history, the WTO reached a fully multilateral agreement. WTO Members have demonstrated that we can come together as one to set new rules that create economic opportunity and prosperity for our nations and our peoples.”
 
He said that the trade facilitation part of the agreement would be a major boost to U.S. small exporters trying to navigate complex customs rules abroad. 
 
“That, my friends, is no small package,” Froman said. 
 
The USTR said the agricultural package would give U.S. farmers and ranchers greater access to markets like Japan and the EU, which have quotas backed by high tariffs on certain goods. 
 
Crucial to the agreement are limits on agricultural subsidies to farmers given in the name of “food security.” 
 
Under existing WTO rules, members are limited in the way they give farm subsidies, but disputes have arisen over an exception for “food security” that the U.S. has said advanced developing countries were exploiting. The U.S. has argued that the real victims of the exemption were the even more impoverished, least developed countries whose farmers simply cannot compete with subsidized farmers in better off nations. 
 
India and the U.S. reportedly hashed out core differences on the issue at the Bali meeting to seal the overall deal. The compromise shields countries like India from WTO dispute challenges over their agricultural supports if they are more transparent about what they are doing. 
 
The head of the Senate Finance Committee, which in charge of trade, praised the deal while urging progress in the future on a technology trade initiative that was left out of the Bali accord.
 
"The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement is great news for the entire global trading community, and will help to restore the role of the WTO as a place to conclude trade deals whose benefits are spread broadly around the world," said Sen. Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBottom line Overnight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor MORE (D-Mont.) "I applaud the work of United States Trade Representative Michael Froman and look forward to further achievements at the WTO, including expansion of the Information Technology Agreement."
 
Business associations were also positive.
 
”WTO members have delivered a dose of holiday cheer to a struggling global economy,” said U.S. Council for International Business President Peter Robinson.
 
Correction: This story was updated to reflect fact Congress might not ever vote on the WTO deal.