U.S. cotton extends hand to West Africa

Outreach efforts toward West African cotton producing nations are expected to “pay positive dividends” for the U.S. industry in the next round of the World Trade Organization's agricultural negotiations, says the chairman of the National Cotton Council.

Beset by criticism in the media and in foreign government circles that U.S. farm program subsidies, particularly for cotton, are depressing markets in third world nations, the council has “actively sought opportunities to establish a close working relationship” with those countries, says Woody Anderson, Colorado City, Texas, producer.

The New York Times has been especially critical of the U.S. cotton program, asserting that it is directly responsible for keeping growers in Burkina Faso and other West African nations from participating fully in the world cotton market.

“We embarked on this endeavor with the belief that there are many common issues and concerns between us, and that there are many common issues and concerns between us — as well as a great opportunity before us,” he told members of the Cotton Foundation and the American Cotton Producers Association at their joint meeting at Albuquerque, N.M.

“We also believed there were real solutions to be realized through mutual dialogue and cooperative efforts, rather than those being proposed in the WTO.”

The dialogue between U.S. cotton representatives and the West African countries began early this year when a delegation from Mali met with council leaders at their annual meeting at New Orleans.

“We had a cordial, wide-ranging discussion about matters of mutual interest, including trade, investment, and capacity-building,” Anderson says. In June, he participated in Burkina Faso's Ministerial Conference on Agricultural Technology and traveled through several of the country's cotton-growing regions with a U.S. delegation.

Co-host Africans

In late July, the U.S. cotton industry co-hosted a West African delegation, showing examples of American cotton research, promotion, and marketing.

“During this tour, we discussed advances in cotton production, ginning, and fiber processing, as well as how their countries could benefit from participation in our industry's technical conferences,” Anderson says. “We also explored potential linkages between their cotton industry and our research, production, and marketing specialists, and demonstrated the extensive benefits associated with the adoption of biotechnology.”

Ministers in the delegation were provided “sound economic and marketing analyses showing the dramatic cotton production increases by Brazil and China since 2001,” he says. “We clearly showed the returns that accompany the adoption of biotechnology, which greatly exceed the 2 percent price change that recent studies by Texas Tech University and the Food and Agricultural Organization estimate would result from the elimination of the U.S. cotton program.”

U.S. cotton industry representatives also heard reports from the West African delegation as to the status of the cotton sector in each of their countries, which “helped to foster a better understanding on our part.”

Anderson says the U.S. industry plans to continue cooperative efforts with West Africa, with a return visit possible later this year by a team of American cotton leaders and specialists to the cotton-producing regions of those countries during the growing season.

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