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Absent Doha agreement, African cotton growers wooed

The United States, China and the European Union appear to be vying for popularity with the West African cotton producing countries by offering new forms of assistance and attention in the absence of a World Trade Organization Doha round agreement that would reduce cotton subsidies around the world.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk
At the meeting of trade ministers in Geneva last week, the United States seemed to lead off the competition by offering easier access for West African cotton in the United States, a continuation of the West African Cotton Improvement Program, and additional help for countries seeking to make maximum use of existing U.S. trade preference programs such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk also met with the trade ministers and the WTO ambassadors from Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali – the “Cotton Four” or “C-4” countries – on Friday.

Prosper Vokouma
Prosper Vokouma, the ambassador of Burkina Faso to the WTO, told reporters that the countries greeted the U.S. offer “warmly,” but are still looking for changes to the U.S. cotton program in the next farm bill.

The ministers from the four countries also issued a statement “deploring” the lack of action on cotton at the WTO and expressed fear that the recent fall in world cotton prices will mean a resumption of the trade-distorting subsidies that they contend have lowered world cotton prices and damaged their economies.

“It is through cotton that we see our role in the WTO,” Vokouma told reporters. Although he acknowledged that the United States is not the only subsidizer, he said the C-4 countries still focus on the U.S. program because in total it spends the most on cotton subsidies.

Charles Parker
National Cotton Council Chairman Charles Parker commended the Obama administration’s efforts in a news release.

“Cotton producers in West Africa face significant challenges even in these times of strong prices, so we support the continuation of an outreach program like WACIP, which can provide West African farmers an opportunity to increase their income to benefit their families and communities,” Parker said.

But he also said that U.S. cotton industry promotion programs “build consumer demand on a global basis, which is benefiting cotton farmers in all countries. WACIP provides West African farmers the opportunity to enhance their productivity so they can participate in growing markets and compete with synthetic fibers.”

China, the biggest buyer of West African and American cotton, followed with a promise to supply the seeds, machinery, fertilizer and other materials needed to help promote cotton planting in the four African nations, International Business Times reported.

“China’s market is always open to African countries,” said Commerce Minister Chen Deming.

“We have been providing African countries with aid and technical training for many years,” said Du Min, director of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture’s research center for rural economy. “Further cooperation will help to improve their production capacity. China’s decision is promoting fair cotton trade in the world. African economies will benefit from the cooperation."

Vokouma said at the press conference that the Chinese commitment is over a three year period.

Dacian Ciolos
EU Commissioner for Agriculture & Rural Development Dacian Ciolos also met with the Geneva-based ambassador.

“Trade, development and agriculture policies are three inseparable pillars of global food security — a major challenge for developing countries and developed countries in the coming decades,” Ciolos said, according to a joint statement issued by the European Commission and the C-4 countries.

“We do not simply make statements in Geneva, we have already made major reforms in our agricultural policy in recent decades, including on cotton,” Ciolos said in the statement.

“As for cotton and the Doha Round, we will continue to actively support the search for solutions to the current situation, in partnership with members of the C-4. Furthermore, I am convinced that we must focus on the development potential of local production, particularly by improving the competitiveness and added value of the African cotton sector.”

According to the joint news release, Chadian Minister Mahamat Taher Allahu thanked the EU for support given to the development of African agriculture in general and the cotton sector in particular, as well as the attention given to the problem of food security.

On cotton, he stressed the importance, beyond the aspect of development assistance, of providing a solution through trade in the framework of the Doha round.