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January 18, 2010

US cotton lobby bids for African support

West African cotton growers have long accused US subsidies of impeding international competition in the cotton marketplace. Now American cotton growers are discussing how to convince African cotton farmers that they are not the problem and that Brazil, India and China are.

Growers, experts and distributors are meeting at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in New Orleans from 4-7 January.

“The cotton-producing countries in west Africa should align themselves with the United States in the push for reduced import trade barriers in key importing countries,” the leaders of the National Cotton Council, the US cotton lobby, wrote in a letter in December.

Countries like Burkina Faso, Mali and even Chad have long complained of US cotton subsidies putting them out of business. In five years, west African cotton production has gone down by half, and is now at about 500,000 tonnes per year.
The NCC says that the problem is not the US. Rather, it blames African inefficiency and the rising threats of growing cotton giants Brazil, India and China.

But Jean-Pierre Boris, who follows commodities for RFI, writes in his blog that this is a specious argument. It is impossible to group the 25,000 US cotton growers with the millions of small African farmers, he says.

“How do you compare the US subsidies, even if there are reforms, with the sale price that African growers get?” he asks.

Boris says that African farmers are subsistence farmers, while US farmers can switch from one crop to another if the price of cotton goes down. He compares the American cotton lobby’s attempt at seducing African cotton growers to Brazil getting African farmers to fight US cotton subsidies just a few years ago.

“We know the result,” he writes. “The World Trade Organisation condemned the Americans, compensated the Brazilians. And as for African cotton, it was sentenced to an inexorable decline.”

Radio France Internationale

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