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Cotton farmers face more program criticism

New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other media outlets and foreign governments with a rather one-sided view of world trade.

Unfortunately, the industry may not get much relief from the almost weekly tarring and featherings from those outlets and foreign governments as World Trade Organization leaders attempt to revive the Doha Round of the WTO, a National Cotton Council official says.

“As the Cancun experience demonstrates, every segment of the U.S. cotton industry can be directly affected by discussions within the World Trade Organization,” said Mark Lange, president of the National Cotton Council, in a speech to the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.

“While the Cancun talks failed to realize progress, and our industry breathed a collective sigh of temporary relief, the chairman of the WTO is hard at work trying to restart trade talks with a new agenda.”

Lange was referring to last September’s trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, that were supposed to be a major step toward finalizing a new trade agreement that would be named for the round of negotiations that began in Doha, Qatar, in 2001. Instead, the talks broke down, primarily because of squabbling over the U.S. cotton program.

“The Cancun meeting saw Brazil, India and China attempt to exert leadership of the ‘less developed countries’ to oppose initiatives of the developed countries,” said Lange, who serves as the NCC’s chief executive officer.

“Specifically, a group of 21 developing countries called for no further increases in access to their domestic markets or other significant changes in their domestic practices while calling for developed economies to completely eliminate quotas and tariffs and to dramatically reduce their domestic agricultural programs.”

While such one-sided proposals have become the norm in the WTO, the “Group of 21” proposal represented more than a dispute between developed and developing countries, according to Lange.

“Ever since the United States first proposed an end to all agricultural subsidies way back in 1987, the European Union and the United States have each attempted to leverage developing countries against the other’s agenda. That attempt to use the developing countries as leverage leads to a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering….”

Lange said the so-called African cotton initiative, which raised such a furor at Cancun and in the national news media, was a case in point.

Last summer, four West African countries presented a proposal within the WTO seeking the immediate elimination of the U.S. and E.U. cotton programs and compensatory payments totaling about $1 billion from the latter to their government coffers.

Lange said the proposal should have been discarded immediately. Instead the WTO chairman’s agenda for Cancun included a separate stand-alone cotton initiative, based on the West African countries’ stated concerns and became a flashpoint for the developed vs. developing world headlines.

“Undoubtedly, the African initiative was encouraged by European interests, primarily as a way to pressure the United States,” said Lange. “The initiative itself was primarily the work of Oxfam, an international aid organization that receives heavy funding from some European governments.”

Oxfam has waged an effective campaign of misinformation attacking the U.S. cotton program – “based primarily on analysis from a critically flawed report issued by the International Cotton Advisory Committee in 2002.”

As the Cancun meeting unfolded, the U.S. Trade Representative countered with a proposal to examine all trade distorting aspects of fiber production and trade and production and trade in textiles and apparel.

“Many countries with significant man-made production facilities and complex domestic textile production support programs (India, Pakistan and China among others) applauded the African ‘cotton initiative,’ but suddenly had little to say regarding the broader, more comprehensive U.S. proposal,” said Lange.

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