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Draft World Trade Statement Leaves Global Delegates Unimpressed

International delegates are reviewing a draft statement for the conclusion of this week's World Trade Organization talks, but several key areas of dispute remain unresolved. The compromise document outlines limited progress after five days of talks.

The World Trade Organization members were hoping to produce a deal in Hong Kong that would push forward four-year-old trade goals. However, many fear that objective will not be met.

A draft declaration issued Saturday suggests that rich nations end agricultural export subsidies, at the latest, by 2013. But it does not set a firm date, one of the core demands of poor countries.

Djabakatie Nawiekou, a delegate from Togo, sums up the frustration of many developing country delegates.

Mr. Nawiekou says his country feels disappointed, and there is no progress in the draft.

Less developed countries want the European Union to set a deadline for cutting farm subsidies, but that is not in the draft. Nor does it include European demands that poor countries allow in more manufactured goods and services.

The delegates will spend the next 24 hours negotiating on the new draft of the declaration. A final version is to be issued when the WTO's ministerial conference ends Sunday.

The draft recommends that rich countries end all export subsidies for cotton next year, a key demand of poor countries, which say subsidies in the United States make it hard for their cotton to compete on world markets.

The draft pushes forward recommendations that rich countries give the world's poorest nations duty-free and quota-free market access. However, there appears to be no agreement on demands by the United States and other countries that rich countries be allowed to exclude some items from their markets, such as textiles from Bangladesh or Cambodia.

Some aid groups say the draft does not go far enough to help poor nations expand trade, and still protect their impoverished farmers and weak industries. The British charity Oxfam said the new draft, if left unchanged, would "do more harm than good."

A standoff between the European Union and the United States has dominated much of this week's WTO talks. The Europeans reject a U.S. proposal for steep cuts to farm subsidies, and, instead, demand that the United States change its policies on food aid, which they say distorts world markets. The E.U. delegates also say their plan to reduce farm programs has not been matched by offers to increase access to developing countries for industrial goods and services.

U.S. envoys say that failure to produce a deal in Hong Kong may lead Washington to pursue smaller, more targeted agreements. Susan Schwab is the deputy U.S. trade representative.

"If you can make more progress on a bilateral basis, set some precedents, create some strong trading within the region, for example, the Central America regional free trade agreement - that's a good way to go," said Ms. Schwab.

Many analysts fear the WTO could suffer a severe blow to its credibility, if no substantial deal is produced. For that reason, negotiators are expected to be talking around the clock, right up to the close just before midnight Sunday.