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July 29, 2008

African cotton producers see no progress in US subsidy talks

African cotton producers seeking a cut in US subsidies for US cotton producers voiced frustration july 27 as they claimed Washington offered "nothing concrete" during global trade talks underway now.

"We cannot say that we are satisfied. There is nothing concrete," an African negotiator said.

The so-called C4 group of West African cotton producers -- Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali -- met US Trade Representative Susan Schwab to discuss domestic cotton subsidies within the overall framework of mammoth talks to secure a new global free trade pact. The C4 group has since 2003 been fighting for the cotton issue to be included in the Doha Round of World Trade Organisation negotiations.

The group wants industrialised countries, particularly the United States, to lower domestic subsidies that the African nations say weigh down world cotton prices and penalise poorer countries.They were assured that the issue would be treated "ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically" by WTO trade partners in 2004.

But the African negotiator said July 27 that there had been "no advances" in the talks with Schwab. "The US promised they would do more on cotton than on the rest of agriculture, but they don't want to announce anything right now," he said. "There weren't even any signals at this stage on what figures they might propose," he added.

The group wants to see subsidies cut by 82.2 percent in the US, a figure included in a negotiating text that is forming the basis of discussions on a new free-trade pact.

Schwab's spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said that the two sides "discussed creating opportunities for African farmers to export through lowering tariffs and barriers imposed on cotton."

But the African diplomat said market access was not the issue, stating: "What we want is for them to relieve us of the burden of (their) subsidies."


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