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WTO Reaches Accord Amid Protests

WTO negotiators reached a breakthrough on the most contentious issue of the six-day talks, agreeing that wealthy countries would eliminate farm export subsidies by 2013, paving the way for a broader agreement to cut trade barriers across various sectors, according to a copy of the final draft agreement obtained by journalists.

The breakthrough, coming after all-night negotiations, appeared to save the World Trade Organization meeting from an embarrassing collapse provided the final draft is approved by all 149 member nations and territories who are meeting later Sunday.

Meanwhile, roughly 1,000 people marched through Hong Kong in an anti-WTO parade Sunday. The demonstrators chanted "Sink WTO" because they oppose the WTO's efforts to open up markets to foreign competition.

Police removed hundreds of protesters who staged a sit-in that shut down one of Hong Kong's busiest streets Sunday, one day after demonstrators went on a violent rampage outside a venue for a WTO meeting.

The 2013 date was a key demand of the European Union, which held out against intense pressure from Brazil and other developing nations to phase out a significant proportion of its farm export subsidies by 2010. Developing nations say the government farm payments to promote exports undercuts the competitive advantage of poor farmers.

The revised text also sets April 30, 2006, as a new deadline to work out formulas for cutting farm and industrial tariffs and subsidies, a key step toward forging a sweeping global free trade treaty by the end of next year.


The draft noted "the compelling urgency of seizing the moment and driving the process to a conclusion as rapidly as possible. We must maintain momentum. You don't close divergences by taking time off to have a cup of tea," it said.

"To meet this challenge and achieve this goal, we must act decisively and with real urgency," the text said.

The final draft also calls on wealthy nations to allow duty-free and quota-free privileges to at least 97 percent of products exported by the so-called least developed countries by 2008.

In addition, the draft retained an earlier proposal that rich countries to eliminate all export subsidies on cotton in 2006.

These measures were considered critical to the overall success of the current round of WTO talks that were launched four years ago in Doha, Qatar, particularly to address the concerns of developing nations.

Police said they arrested 900 demonstrators after Saturday's violence, and many were South Koreans who went on a rampage just outside the WTO meeting venue. They attacked police with bamboo poles and tried to break into the building. Police scattered them with tear gas and seized control of the area.

Such large-scale violence is rare in this stable Asian financial capital. The last time the city saw such a melee was during 1967 riots aimed at usurping British colonial rule. Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997.

Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang said Saturday's riot was "unacceptable" and pledged to prosecute those involved.

The South Koreans began holding a sit-in Saturday night that blocked off one of Hong Kong's busiest streets. Police began arresting the demonstrators early Sunday and spent hours loading them into buses.

Sunday's procession was led by Hong Kong activists, who held a giant red banner saying "Oppose WTO." The protesters included Thai and Filipino migrant workers along with Japanese farmers.

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