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African Nations Stand Firm On Cotton Subsidies Issue

A group of 36 African cotton-producing nations warned Thursday that there will be no deal in the Doha trade talks without drastic reductions in...

GENEVA — A group of 36 African cotton-producing nations warned Thursday that there will be no deal in the Doha trade talks without drastic reductions in trade-distorting cotton subsidies.

Failure to accommodate the concerns of poor African nations contributed to the collapse of the Doha talks in Cancún, Mexico, in September 2003, and the issue has stalled the talks and put the U.S., the world’s biggest subsidizer of cotton, on the defensive. Since then, disputes brought to the World Trade Organization by Brazil have found that multibillion-dollar U.S. cotton subsidy plans violate global trade rules.

Ahead of a new round of crucial talks aimed at a breakthrough deal on lower subsidies and tariffs for agricultural and industrial goods, Malloum Bamanga Abbas, Chad’s WTO ambassador, speaking on behalf of the African cotton-producing nations, told a negotiating session, “Without a solution on cotton, there will not be a solution to the agriculture negotiations or to the Doha Round,” according to senior trade diplomats.

“If there’s no solution for cotton, consequently there will be no Doha deal,” said a West African envoy, adding that the group is consulting with the U.S. “to get a concrete result.”

In July, the chief U.S. agriculture negotiator, Joseph Glauber, rejected a draft proposal by the chairman of the agriculture talks, Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand, which called for deeper cuts in cotton subsidies compared with other products.

The blueprint reflected the demands of the so-called Cotton Four countries — Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali — and called for reductions in U.S. subsidies of as much as 82 percent, or more than $1.5 billion.

Commenting on the lack of a U.S. counterproposal, a spokeswoman for U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said, “We are continuing to consult with Congress and stakeholders.”

Several African envoys said they had major concerns about the failure of the U.S. to make any counteroffer, while others were confident they will achieve what they want on cotton.

WTO director general Pascal Lamy told delegates that a meeting with ministers last week in Davos, Switzerland, “confirmed to me that this deal is eminently doable and that it must be done.”

Lamy said the chairman of the agriculture and nonagricultural market access talks “will circulate comprehensive revised modality texts next week,” adding: “I am pretty sure that the moment of truth is at hand.”

But a former senior U.S. trade official said, “You’re not going to see anything move forward until after the U.S. elections.”