Hong Kong Protesters opposed to lowering trade barriers swung bamboo sticks at police Saturday and tried to storm a convention center where World Trade Organization delegates were negotiating a global accord on farming, manufacturing and services. At least 70 people were injured.
Negotiators met overnight into today trying to overcome differences on a draft text, but failed to agree on a deadline to eliminate agricultural export subsidies. India's trade minister, Kamal Nath, said a deal had been reached, but he was swiftly contradicted by a spokesman for the European Union trade commissioner.
On Saturday, security forces scattered the crowd of protesters with tear gas and pepper spray, and 900 people were detained after the worst street violence in Hong Kong in decades. The injured included 10 police officers.
The protesters included South Korean farmers, Southeast Asian groups and activists from the United States and Europe. They are concerned that WTO efforts to open up global markets will enrich wealthy nations at the expense of poor and developing countries.
By early today, police ordered demonstrators staging a sit-in on a major road near the site to disperse and began dragging them away and loading them in buses.
Leading delegates met into today in hopes of reaching an agreement on a text that showed only incremental progress after nearly a week of largely fruitless talks on how to reduce trade barriers in services, manufacturing and farming. The talks focused on the contentious proposal to end export subsidies by 2010 - an issue that could make or break the entire gathering.
"Today is the day," Fernando de Mateo y Venturini, Mexico's ambassador to the WTO, said early today. "At least I hope there is going to be a result. That's my expectation."
The U.S. trade representative, Rob Portman, said negotiators were close to a deal, reporting modest progress on market opening measures for farm and manufactured goods and services.
"The expectations were relatively low for Hong Kong but I think we're making some incremental progress," he said.
Venturini said delegates discussed possibly pushing the date to end export subsidies back to 2013, and Nath said that proposal would be acceptable to India, one of the leading developing nations and a key player in the rules-setting World Trade Organization.