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Ministers of Developing Nations Welcome Modest Progress in WTO Negotiations

Ministers of some developing nations are welcoming what they say is a step forward in World Trade Organization negotiations in Hong Kong. However, they warn the next hours will be critical to advancing the aim of the talks, which is to find a way to implement a plan to alleviate world poverty through free trade.

Trade ministers say they have made modest progress in liberalizing global commerce.

The comments come after the World Trade Organization issued a new draft declaration that sets a tentative date of 2010 for rich nations to stop subsidizing farm exports.

India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath called the compromise a step forward in resolving an impasse over developing nations' demands for richer countries to get rid of all farm subsidies.

"This Hong Kong ministerial was to set the direction and set the tone," said Mr. Nath. "Now, the direction having been set, we will now need to gain momentum. The direction is correct, that direction being that we cannot let these inequities to be perpetuated."

Delegates from some developing nations say the draft still does not go far enough on farm subsidies. The European Union's top negotiator also said the draft was "unbalanced" and would need more negotiations.

A WTO spokesman said that no members had rejected the draft outright, although everyone "has problems with it."

It appears, however, that negotiations all day Saturday may have helped avert a total breakdown of the talks. It had appeared for several days that no progress was being made.

The United States had no immediate comment on the compromise text. Washington and the European Union have been deadlocked over the United States' calls for E.U. officials to make deeper cuts in agricultural supports.

Despite what some negotiators say are flaws in the draft declaration, Mexico's Secretary of Economy Sergio Garcia de Alba says there is reason to be optimistic.

Mr. Garcia says his delegation is satisfied because although there were no large gains, it recognizes that the advances made were small but significant.

The head of the Indian delegation said the negotiations, which he said have been in a roundabout for years, have now left the roundabout and are, albeit slowly, now on the road.

The 149 WTO members are trying to find ways to begin implementing the Doha Development Agenda, a four-year-old program to ensure that poor nations benefit from global free trade.

Negotiators were to spend the next 24 hours trying to finalize the latest draft and planned to issue a final declaration before midnight on Sunday.

Saturday evening, anti-WTO protests turned violent outside the meeting hall. Negotiators and journalists were locked inside the convention center as Hong Kong police battled to subdue the demonstrations. Much of the city was shut down, with roads closed and public transportation halted.