GENEVA — A group of poor West African cotton-producing nations, spearheaded by Benin, has called on World Trade Organization members to bring an end to the cotton subsidy programs of all developed nations within five years.

This story first appeared in the July 13, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The proposal followed a WTO ruling that the payments by the U.S. to cotton growers were in violation of world trade rules. Brazil had brought the complaint about the U.S.

In defiance of intense pressure by the U.S. and behind-the-scenes arm-twisting by the European Union, senior officials from Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali called for all cotton subsidies by rich nations to be drastically reduced or dismantled.

“These subsidies destroy our economies, and cotton is a very strategic product and has a very specific character,” said Benin’s minister of industry and commerce Fatiou V. Akplogan, in testimony before the trade body late last month.

Representatives of Nigeria and Brazil voiced their support on the issue.

Concerns over agricultural issues prompted a group of more than 60 developing nations to convene a summit in Mauritius this week.

The African nations also renewed their calls for a fund of $250 million to be established to compensate developing-world farmers for damages to their livelihoods caused by rich countries’ subsidies.

According to WTO reports, cotton accounts for 77 percent of Benin’s exports, 55 percent of Burkina Faso’s and nearly 18 percent of Mali’s; over 10 million people in the region depend on cotton for their livelihood.

Benin’s Akplogan said the recent WTO panel ruling on U.S. cotton subsidies has strengthened the hand of poor nations. The decision called for the U.S. to discontinue the program by July 1, 2005. The U.S has said it believes its payment programs are proper and has indicated that it would appeal the WTO decision.

The developing-world push is much broader, calling for an end to all cotton subsidies, which would affect more than just the U.S. To achieve a quick end, the ministers suggested the WTO should discuss the issue on its own and not wrap it into overall agriculture talks. U.S. and EU officials oppose making cotton a stand-alone issue.

Peter Allgeier, deputy U.S. trade representative, said, “Cotton, a matter of concern for our African partners, can best be addressed as part of the agricultural negotiations.”