The 10-day World Summit on Sustainable Development, formally opening Monday after two days of preparatory talks, will seek a new U.N. blueprint to slash poverty with new economic growth that does not damage the environment.
Delegates pored for hours over the compromise text Sunday meant to bridge huge gaps between the developed nations and poor states. The latter want more aid and an end, for instance, to farm subsidies in rich nations that help shut out their exports.
The United States and the European Union said the proposals were a step forward but stopped short of endorsing them.
Nitin Desai, the summit secretary-general, reiterated predictions that delegates would reach a compromise by the time about 100 world leaders arrive in a week's time for the summit finale in the tightly-guarded Sandton convention center.
"They're making progress. I'm very confident that we'll be able to not only to end with an agreement but with a good agreement," he told a news conference.
But delegates from developing nations, meeting together on Sunday night, said talks were sluggish. "There's a lot here that many countries people don't like," one delegate said of the text. "Talks could last for days."
"In the European Union you have 15 nations and it takes ages to reach agreement. Among the developing nations there are more than 130 so you can imagine how hard it is," another said.
John Ashe, a delegate from Antigua and Barbuda and chairman of the talks, said his compromise would build environmental concerns into trade policy for a first time and denied it reflected wishes of developed states.
"It's an attempt to bring everything together in a balanced way," he told Reuters. One key proposal in his text, he said, was to "reduce or phase out, as appropriate, environmentally harmful and/or trade distorting subsidies."
But environmental group Friends of the Earth said the wording would let nations simply say it was not "appropriate" to end, for instance, subsidies to the oil and coal industry despite pollution from fossil fuels.
Catherine Day, deputy director at the European Commission, said Ashe's text, which axes several disputed sections from the 77-page draft, was a "good basis for discussion" and denied it was toning down environmental concerns.
"We feel it's a very positive step," echoed John Turner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for international environmental affairs.
The text toned down earlier drafts that spoke of the possible dangers of globalization -- poor nations fear that liberalization could mean that rich corporations will swamp their vulnerable economies.
Another part of Ashe's draft partly meets developing nations' worries by urging
rich nations to make "concrete efforts" to raise aid to them to 0.7 percent of
their income. They now give about 0.22 percent, or $67 a year from each person
in the developed world, down from 0.33 percent a decade ago.