By  on October 23, 2007

GENEVA — Removing all farm subsidies and tariffs could result in the global price for cotton increasing 20.8 percent, a World Bank report said.

The study, "Agriculture for Development," said the troubled Doha Round of trade talks "must urgently be concluded, particularly to eliminate distortions such as U.S. cotton subsidies, which are detrimental to the poorest nations."

In a preface to the report, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said: "We must level the playing field in international trade." But Zoellick, a former U.S. trade representative, also stressed "it will require political will to move forward with reforms that improve the governance of agriculture."

The World Bank estimated that developing-country cotton exporters such as Brazil and West Africa's Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali would register gains in world cotton market share of about 27 percent. Removing U.S. cotton subsidies alone would increase the income of poor West African cotton producers 8 to 20 percent.

"In sub-Saharan Africa, home to 229 million extremely poor rural people, agriculture is about much more than simple food security," Zoellick said in a statement. A greater focus on agriculture may help boost economic growth and offer "multiple pathways out of poverty," he added.

In the Doha talks, the U.S., which has had many of its cotton subsidy programs successfully challenged by Brazil in the World Trade Organization, is under pressure to scrap as much as 82 percent of its domestic subsidies. The U.S. has said that level, proposed by ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand, chairman of the farm talks, is unacceptable, but has not made a counter offer.

The report estimated that the amount of support to agricultural producers in rich industrialized countries increased to $273 billion annually between 2003 and 2005 from $242 billion a year between 1986 and 1998. It concluded that by dropping all subsidies and tariffs, developing countries would increase their share of global agricultural exports 11 percent to 65 percent, with cotton showing a larger increase.

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