Leading members of the World Trade Organization meeting in Paris said prospects have improved for agreement in the Doha Round of global trade negotiations. The talks were thrown off track by the collapse last September of a meeting in Cancun, Mexico, but following an offer this week by the European Union to scrap its farm export subsidies, trade ministers voiced optimism that an interim deal can be struck in July that would lay out the "framework" of a final agreement. "After a period of relative calm, with only some underground activity, the WTO volcano is smoking again," EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said.

Nortel Under Criminal Investigation

Nortel Networks, whose accounting is being investigated by U.S. and Canadian regulators, said federal prosecutors in Texas have demanded company documents as part of a criminal investigation. Brampton, Ontario-based Nortel, North America's largest maker of phone equipment, has 4,300 workers in Richardson, Tex. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission started investigating Nortel after the company in March said it might have to revise results that had been restated in November. Nortel last month fired chief executive Frank A. Dunn and two of his top deputies.

MORE NEWS

Oracle said it cut its hostile takeover bid for PeopleSoft by 19 percent, to $7.7 billion, or $21 a share, after previously raising its bid twice. PeopleSoft's share price has dropped 24 percent since the last bid, and the new offer reflects that decline, Oracle said.

McDonald's chief executive Charles H. Bell assured employees that the prognosis is "very, very good" for a full recovery from his May 5 cancer surgery but he first faces chemotherapy to deal with cancer cells that were discovered in postoperative tests. The 43-year-old chief executive was in the job for only 16 days before undergoing surgery soon after the detection of cancer. He was appointed chief executive after James R. Cantalupo died, apparently from a heart attack, on April 19.

William Daley, who was commerce secretary in the Clinton administration, resigned as president of SBC Communications. The telecommunications company offered no explanation and SBC spokesman Selim Bingol would not say whether Daley or the company instigated his departure. SBC hired Daley in December 2001 as part of an effort to help the company improve its strained relationship with federal and state regulators. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

Boeing said it reached a partial settlement with 28,000 female workers at its Seattle-area aircraft manufacturing plants who claim the company knew men were paid more and received better promotions than women. Terms weren't disclosed and Boeing said it's still trying to resolve other aspects of the dispute. The case was scheduled to begin trial Monday in Seattle. The women were seeking $450 million in back pay and more than $1 billion in punitive damages.

Cendant's former chief financial officer, Cosmo Corigliano, agreed to pay $14 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission allegations that he helped supervise a fraud that led to the largest shareholder damages settlement in U.S. history. Corigliano and his wife, Agnes, agreed to pay cash, securities, savings and other assets that represent their "unjust enrichment" from the fraud, the SEC said.

Liberty Media may consider a bid for Adelphia Communications if Cox Communications joined it, Liberty president and chief executive Robert Bennett said. Emphasizing that such a bid is only a possibility at this time, he said that the company would be interested in a joint bid for Adelphia if it would help Liberty increase its stake in Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications. Liberty and Cox each own 50 percent of Discovery.

Timken announced it will close three Canton, Ohio, plants employing 1,300 people. The alloy steel and bearings manufacturer has reported higher earnings this year as demand by industrial, steel and automotive markets increased. However, officials said production at the three plants has declined 27 percent over the past five years.

INTERNATIONAL

The gene-altered corn variety Bt11, made by Swiss firm Syngenta, will be approved next week by the European Union for human consumption in all 25 EU countries for 10 years. The approval will be the first break in a six-year EU de facto moratorium on new biotech crops that the United States has challenged before the World Trade Organization. A U.S. official said the U.S. still intends to pursue its complaint, citing the need for "the development of a predictable, ongoing process for considering biotech approval applications."

LOCAL BUSINESS

Educate, the Baltimore-based pre-kindergarten-through-12th-grade tutoring services company formed by the buyout of Sylvan Learning Centers, registered for an initial public offering of up to $287.5 million in common stock.

Fannie Mae was given extra time by its federal regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, to recalculate write-downs on bonds backed by manufactured housing payments and aircraft leases. The deadline was yesterday. OFHEO ordered Fannie Mae on May 6 to alter its accounting to reflect a drop in the bonds' value.

US Airways expects to lay off about 200 gate agents in the fall because it plans to install automated ticket readers at gates, according to a union official. Amy Kudwa, a spokeswoman for the Arlington-based airline, said there is no firm number of layoffs.

Compiled from reports by the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones News Service and Washington Post staff writers.