There are increasing fears that the World Development Summit in Johannesburg
will fail to reach key agreements before heads of state arrive next week for what
should be the climax of the meeting.
Talks will continue through the weekend and some representatives believe that
if the final plan of action is not agreed by 4 September, when the summit is due
to end, discussions could drag on for several more days.
BBC News Online correspondent Alex Kirby said the talks are approaching meltdown
over the world's inability to confront US intransigence.
not end up with a weak agreement because we've been outmaneuvered
Royal Society for Protection of Birds
Some observers believe the US wants a weak agreement, or none at all, to leave
it free to act as it will.
One delegate told BBC News Online: "The US has nothing to lose, because it
wants to preserve the status quo.
"The EU needs to isolate it by winning the support of the G77 group of developing
countries, and the only way to get them onside is through some grand political
gesture - more rapid trade reform, a faster phase-out of the EU common agricultural
policy, more development aid, something like that."
The EU briefly withdrew all its officials from discussions on Thursday night
in protest at the American position.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to announce a concession, possibly
an acceptance of the target date of 2015 for halving the number of people in the
world without access to proper sanitation.
Delegates worked until 0330 on Friday morning, with European Union delegates
striving to increase the speed of talks.
One of their senior negotiators pointed out that it had taken a whole day just
to get agreement on the single paragraph on harmful chemicals.
They fear time is running out.
The Europeans have a list of 14 topics they think should be referred to ministers,
ranging from human rights and governance to globalization, climate change and
The EU want the list referred up immediately, but the developing countries
group, among others, clearly thinks this is premature and want to settle of the
issues between officials.
Paul Jefferiss, head of environmental policy at the UK's Royal Society for
the Protection of Birds, told BBC News Online: "We must not end up with a weak
agreement because we've been outmaneuvered
"It's been obvious all along that the EU needs a Plan B in the negotiations
- something that would let it reject an unsatisfactory agreement but still keep
the process alive.
"That makes a weak agreement likelier - and that would be a disaster for the
planet, and for people. The EU's been putting off the evil moment, saying: 'We'll
cross that bridge when we come to it.' Well, we're now at the bridge."
A delegate from an international non-governmental organization was less apocalyptic.
He told BBC News Online: "It's going to be very, very difficult. Sometimes
you could imagine yourself back in 1991, before the Rio earth summit, from some
of the conversations.
"But there are countries determined to make progress, and it's too early to
write the summit off."
There are doubts about the summit's priorities, and concern that climate change,
judged one of the gravest problems, appears to be an afterthought.
Bob Watson, chief scientist of the World Bank, is the former chairman of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"Climate change isn't being discussed properly here. It affects all the key
areas identified by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general - water, energy, health,
agriculture and biodiversity. But it's not obvious that the summit is fully including
it," he said.
Copyright 2002 BBC