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No Early Breakthroughs at WTO Meeting

The deadlock continues in Hong Kong, where the 149 members of the World Trade Organization have been meeting to try to come up with a way to start implementing a plan to knock down trade barriers and alleviate poverty around the world.

It was another day of bitter battles of words, with developing nations accusing richer ones of not doing enough to push the process along.

The United States made a bid to break a deadlock with West African nations by announcing it is willing to give duty-free access to their cotton. U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said the United States is negotiating with the cotton-producing nations of West Africa, known as the C-Four.

"And we are hopeful to have some kind of resolution this week," said Rob Portman. "If not, we will continue to work with them and work with them closely."

Some African nations have threatened to block any consensus if rich countries do not commit to a date for lifting subsidies to their cotton producers. African nations say those subsidies are driving their farmers out of the market.

Antoine Agbadome, member of the Benin delegation, says a real solution must go deeper than opening markets.

Mr. Agbadome says the fundamental problem is not about access to markets. He says African cotton is competitive, of good quality. So, he says, the problem is not about entering markets, but about subsidized American cotton flooding the market and causing world prices to plunge. He says the problem is the subsidies.

Participants view agriculture as the key to settling a long list of disputes, and the United States has been pressing the European Union to make more concessions than it already has. EU officials complained of lack of progress, and one official, Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, accused the United States of sidetracking the negotiations.

"Suddenly cotton was taken hostage by the Americans in the discussions," said Mariann Fischer Boel. "They tried actually to link the discussion on cotton with the agriculture discussion. This has not been the idea with the declaration, with the ministerial declaration. This is a separate issue to be tackled."

Despite the U.S. announcement and other developments such as renewed commitments by participants to keep talking, a WTO spokesman described progress at the end of the day Thursday as "a mixed bag."

Outside the meeting venue, protests by anti-free trade activists continued for a third day. The demonstrations were peaceful and festive, but South Korean farmers say they will step up their campaign to stop the WTO talks on Friday.