The WTO launches a frantic drive to salvage its floundering efforts to liberalise global trade at a summit opening Tuesday laced with potential make-or-break implications for the body's influence in the world.
WTO chief Roberto Azevedo is pushing hard for an agreement during the four-day gathering on the Indonesian resort island of Bali that he hopes will keep alive the Doha Round of talks on slashing international trade barriers.
Azevedo called the 159-member group's meeting "the most important World Trade Organisation meeting in years".
"At stake is not only a package of measures to boost the global economy... but also the role of the WTO and the multilateral trading system in global economic governance," he said in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal.
The WTO launched the Doha Round of talks in Qatar in 2001, seeking a wide-ranging accord to open markets and remove hurdles to trade.
But the talks have stalled as rich and poor countries spar over a deal that the WTO says would create tens of millions of jobs andspark trillions of dollars in economic activity.
A global trade overhaul is now on the back-burner, with the WTO focused instead on a limited "Bali package" that it hopes can keep the Doha Round on life-support.
But India is standing firm on its demand that it be allowed to offer greater subsides to protect its farmers, a key sticking point.
"We can no longer allow the interests of our farmers to be compromised at the altar of mercantilist ambitions of the rich," Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, who will represent India in Bali, was quoted as saying on Monday by Indian media.
Many now see the troubled WTO effort -- which requires the unanimous support of all its members -- being eclipsed by alternative regional trade pacts including the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership pushed by Washington.
"These are positive initiatives, but they offer no substitute for global agreements and global rules" such as the Doha Round that take into account the interests of the world's poorest countries, Azevedo wrote.
He said the consequences of failure in Bali would be "grave" at a time of world economic uncertainty.
A WTO spokesman said Azevedo had "cleared the calendar" in Bali of anything that could eat into negotiating time between ministers.
They will focus on issues such as agricultural subsidies, simplifying costoms procedures, and measures to aid least-developed countries.
Indonesia's Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan expressed confidence ministers could close gaps in Bali.
"There is hope that in the next couple of days if we sit down together with the key countries... I think there is a chance" of a deal, the minister told reporters.