GENEVA — As diplomatic efforts to salvage the derailed Doha round of global trade talks began here this week, poor African cotton-exporting countries, spearheaded by Benin, put the elimination of agricultural subsidies center stage.

“A quick solution is needed urgently,”?Benin’s envoy, Samuel Amehou,?told an informal meeting here of?World Trade Organization ambassadors, trade officials familiar with the meeting said.

Major differences between the U.S. and poor African nations Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali over cotton was one of the contributing causes to the collapse of the WTO summit in Cancún, Mexico, on Sept. 14.

The talks, which began in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001, face a Jan. 1, 2005 deadline. It is a coincidence that day is the same day WTO nations will drop quotas on textiles and apparel, a move that was agreed to in the earlier Uruguay round of talks.

But top trade envoys indicated Tuesday the future of the Doha round is still precarious.

WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi told?envoys he would like the talks to resume by December but conceded, “No one is under any illusion that this will be easy.”

Carlo Trojan, the European Union’s WTO ambassador, told reporters, “We’re still in a period of reflection.”

Last week, David Shark, deputy chief of the U.S. mission to the WTO, told a U.N. Conference on Trade and Development forum here: “We’re prepared to work with others to put things back on track. But this is a shared responsibility of the whole membership of the WTO and it will not work unless we all accept this responsibility.”

Benin and its three African allies?have revived calls for the complete elimination of all cotton export subsidies over a period of three years and the elimination of production-related domestic support over a four-year period starting Jan. 1, 2005.

They?also are asking for compensation for poor cotton farmers until the subsidies are scrapped.

The demands were not included in the final draft Cancún ministerial text.

Meanwhile, Terry Townsend, executive director of the Washington-based International Cotton Advisory Committee told the UNCTAD forum Monday that direct income and price support to the cotton industry in the 2003 crop year ended in July was $3.8 billion, down from $5.8 billion in 2002.The ICAC executive said without this government support, market prices would have been about 70 percent higher in the 2002 crop year and 15 percent higher in 2003.

For sub-Saharan African cotton producers, the losses in income linked to subsidies are estimated at $920 million in the 2002 crop year and $230 million in 2003, Townsend said.

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