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November 19, 2008

Burkina Faso stresses need for Doha cotton deal

Africa's biggest cotton exporter Burkina Faso called again on members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to conclude a trade deal that would tackle rich countries' distorting subsidies on cotton.

President Blaise Compaore urged WTO members to finish the Doha round to open up trade, stressing that poor countries' dependence on commerce as they face a global financial crisis.

"I urge members of the WTO to make agriculture a priority, in particular cotton, in these negotiations," he told WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy.

Cotton has become a litmus test of WTO members' ability to produce a fair deal for developing countries.

It was a speech by Compaore to WTO members in June 2003 that put cotton on the trade agenda, trade experts say.

Four African nations -- Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad and Mali -- proposed in 2006 that U.S. cotton subsidies should be cut by 82.2 percent, against a 60 percent fall in other farm subsidies, as part of a new trade deal. The United States has not yet made a counter-proposal.

The WTO has already found existing U.S. cotton subsidies to be in breach of international trade rules, and this will allow Brazil to impose sanctions on the United States.

Compaore told Lamy that agriculture accounted for 30 percent of the impoverished West African country's economy, with cotton exports running at about 320,000 tonnes a year.

"But our agriculture, in particular the cotton sector, has been hurt by subsidies granted by rich countries to their producers and by tariff barriers they have raised to limit our exports of farm produce and cotton," he said, according to a text of his remarks circulated by the WTO.

Burkina Faso is West Africa's biggest cotton grower. Compaore said output was expected at 520,000 tonnes in 2008/09, above 370,000 tonnes in 2007/08 when bad weather and rising costs hit the harvest, but below 600,000 tonnes in 2006/07.

The Doha round was launched seven years ago to open up world trade and help developing countries export their way out of poverty, but agreement has proved elusive.

Diplomats said on Wednesday that pressure is building for a meeting of ministers next month to reach a breakthrough in the core areas of agriculture and industrial goods.

The poorest developing countries are particularly keen to see a deal, as proposals on the table would secure duty-free access to rich markets for most of their products while requiring few concessions of them in return.

Campaore said his country needed aid as well as trade reforms to help its cotton industry. Yields in Burkina Faso are only 394 kilos per hectare, against a world average of 746 kilos, he said.

"I urge the donor community to pursue development aid for the cotton sector and for our part we will continue to accompany this process with reforms at the national level," he said.


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