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Senators warn administration to reject Falconer WTO text

Cotton Belt members of Congress have been telling the Bush administration they would oppose any Doha Round WTO agreement that singled out U.S. cotton for “special treatment.”

Just in case the administration wasn't listening, 10 senators led by Georgia's Saxby Chambliss wrote U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab Sept. 20, urging her to reject the cotton language in a draft text by WTO agriculture negotiations chairman Crawford Falconer.

The draft text, released in July, includes cotton-specific language tabled by Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. The C-4 countries have turned claims the U.S. cotton program has impoverished their farmers into a cottage industry at the WTO headquarters in Geneva.

The letter said the Falconer text, which would require the United States to reduce its cotton subsidies by 90 percent, provides for unique treatment of cotton and “assumes a consensus where there is none.

“Furthermore, the language ignores how best to address the underlying issue and help producers in four West African countries. While we acknowledge the need to address this challenge with sincere and significant efforts, Ambassador Falconer erred by failing to bracket the language.”

If you ask why Falconer, a New Zealander, “failed to bracket the language,” you get differing responses about the administration's handling of the text. The failure to bracket makes it appear the language is a foregone conclusion, sources said.

The Falconer text glosses over underlying distortions in the international cotton market that help explain why African farmers receive less for cotton,” Chambliss' letter said. Nor does it discuss U.S. efforts to help African farmers through the West Africa Cotton Improvement Program.

“Simply stated, the Falconer cotton language is beyond the limit by which we can support an eventual Doha Agreement,” the senators' letter said. “While the benefits of an agreement are great, we cannot abandon a group of farmers who have operated within the parameters of international agreements.”

While the Falconer paper has raised red flags, reports the United States was preparing to offer even more cuts in U.S. farm programs to try to achieve a break-through in the Doha negotiations may have added more fuel to the fire.

A spokesman for the U.S. trade representative insisted the United States was still seeking increased market access for U.S. products as a condition of further cuts. Falconer said U.S. officials had said they were “prepared to negotiate within the range of numbers put forward in the agriculture paper.”

U.S. cotton industry leaders met with Falconer and other WTO staff in Geneva the week of Sept. 17 to try to explain the devastating impact the proposed cuts would have on U.S. cotton producers while providing little help for African farmers.

Chambliss' letter warned if the U.S. Trade Representative agreed to the Falconer text, the senators would have no choice but to vote against a Doha agreement. “Furthermore, if the administration fails to address our concerns, support for trade promotion authority will be severely compromised.”

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