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The United States said on Thursday it was hopeful that differences between India and much of the rest of the world over a major trade agreement could be resolved in time, with only hours remaining before the deal has to be signed.
New Delhi has insisted that, in exchange for signing the trade facilitation agreement, it must see more progress on a parallel pact giving it more freedom to subsidise and stockpile food grains than is allowed by World Trade Organisation rules.
The WTO deal must be signed in Geneva on Thursday, and India's ultimatum has revived doubts about the future of the WTO as a negotiating body.
"I am an optimist, I am hopeful that within the period of today...there is a common ground that is found," U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, accompanying Secretary of State John Kerry during annual strategic talks with India, told NDTV.
India's new nationalist government has demanded a halt to a globally agreed timetable on new customs rules and said a permanent agreement on food stockpiling and subsidies aimed at supporting the poor must be in place at the same time, well ahead of a 2017 target agreed last December in Bali.
Kerry warned India it stood to lose if it refused to budge.
"Right now India has a four-year window where it's been given a safe harbour where nothing happens," he told NDTV.
"If they don't sign up and be part of the agreement, they will lose that and then (they will) be out of line or out of the compliance with the WTO."
Pritzker said serious efforts were underway on Thursday to save the deal, which proponents say could add $1 trillion to the global economy and create 21 million jobs.
DEAL WITHOUT INDIA?
As trade officials in Geneva tried to rescue the deal, India's Trade Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said New Delhi's position remained unchanged.
An Indian government source added separately that the Bali deal need not collapse even if the July 31 deadline is not met.
But several diplomats said New Delhi's stance could derail the whole process of world trade liberalisation, leading some WTO nations to discuss informally the last-ditch idea of excluding India from the agreement.
"If India does end up blocking (on Thursday) there is already a group of members who are interested in pursuing that path," a source involved in the discussions said.
"A dozen or so" of the WTO's 160 members had informally discussed pushing ahead with the trade facilitation