By  on November 23, 2005

GENEVA — West African cotton-producing nations Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali have offered a fresh proposal on elimination of cotton subsidies in advance of next month's crucial meeting of the Doha Round of global trade talks.

The World Trade Organization-sponsored negotiations are intended to reduce or eliminate import tariffs among the 148 member nations of the global trade body. But agricultural issues threaten to limit the success of the talks or cause them to break down, as they did in 2003 in Cancún, Mexico, when West African nations walked out in protest after elimination of subsidies from rich nations to their industries was taken off the table.

Now the West Africans want the U.S. and the European Union to agree ahead of time to scrap the subsidies, which they argue cripple their industries and are unfair global competition.

"Irrespective if there is full modalities or not, on agriculture we have to solve the cotton issue," said Samuel Amehou, Benin's ambassador to the WTO. "The reality is we want our concerns to be treated expeditiously because we want to solve" the big social problems "in our countries caused by these subsidies."

To keep pressure on Washington and Brussels, the four nations presented a joint revised offer Friday at the WTO calling for the elimination of all export subsidies on cotton by the end of 2005, even if an overall deal on agricultural tariffs is not forged. They also presented a formal timetable for cotton-subsidy elimination, calling for 80 percent of all trade-distorting domestic subsidies to be abandoned by the end of 2006, followed by 10 percent reductions in 2007 and 2008, resulting in the scrapping of all support by Jan. 1, 2009.

Moreover, the countries, known as the C4, called for substantial improvements in market access from least-developed nations. The proposal, supported by many countries, including the G20 led by Brazil, differs with the U.S. stance. U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman has stressed that the African cotton concerns would be best addressed by a successful outcome in the round covering industrial sectors.

Kamal Nath, India's Minister of Commerce & Industry, asked Tuesday about the C4 demands for up front commitments on cotton at Hong Kong, said "We completely support it."

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