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Trade and Finance Issues Hold Up Economic Summit in Bali - 2002-06-05

Environment and economic ministers from around the world are meeting in Bali to study a plan to boost sustainable development and ease pollution. It appears they are not close to an agreement.

Since last week, experts have been meeting to draft a plan to promote development that does not damage the environment. Now 118 government ministers have joined the conference on the Indonesian island of Bali to finalize details.

U.N. member nations are to vote on the plan in August at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. However, the delegates remain far apart on many key issues, and there are fears only a weak agreement will be approved at the Bali conference.

Achim Steiner is director general of the World Conservation Union, an umbrella group of private environmental and aid groups around the world. "I think if you walk the corridors here at the moment, you will find more skepticism and despondence, simply because of this very protracted negotiation process, that is one step forward, one step back," Mr. Steiner said.

The plan's chief goal is provide more people with clean water and sanitation. In addition, delegates want to help poor countries use natural resources wisely, without depleting them, and they want wealthy countries to reduce pollution. Achieving these goals, however, will be expensive.

Mr. Steiner said two issues - trade and finance - prevent an agreement. Wealthy nations want conditions on aid, such as commitments to cut corruption, which they say erodes development aid. Developing countries, however, want more aid and they want rich nations to give them greater access to markets.

Mr. Steiner thinks that even after the Bali conference, governments will need to continue talking and negotiating on some points over the next two months. Without further work, he says, the ultimate accord at Johannesburg will be too weak to be effective.

Mr. Steiner, however, does not think the situation is hopeless. He said governments realize that developing nations need help to use resources wisely to optimize economic benefit and enhance global trade. "Therefore, I believe in a number of capitals over the next few weeks, there will be some very deliberate and focused action to try and give Johannesburg a credible outcome. So in that sense I remain an optimist," he said.

U.N. officials are pressing for solid progress before the conference wraps up Friday.