GENEVA — The G20 group of countries, which includes Brazil, India, China, Argentina and South Africa, said Wednesday it will back poor West African countries in their bid to secure a fast-track deal on cotton in the Hong Kong trade summit in December.

Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister and coordinator of the G20, said here that “we will be supporting the cotton producers” of Africa. If no adequate solution on cotton is reached for the countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad, “you will see Brazil and the G20 behind them,” promised Amorim.

Earlier, the ministers of commerce of Mali and Chad said the U.S. and the European Union had not addressed their concerns about cotton in their agricultural proposals to cut subsidies and to lower tariffs. Choguel Maiga, Mali’s minister of commerce, also warned that African countries do not want to be blamed if a solution is not reached during the talks in Hong Kong.

The warning came as U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and his counterparts from the EU, India, Brazil and Australia began two days of talks here in an attempt to reach a breakthrough deal on agriculture that has held back progress in the four-year Doha (Qatar) global trade talks.

“We have no interest to agree to an agreement in Hong Kong that does not cover our interests,” said Maiga. “We risk there will be nothing more concrete on cotton in Hong Kong … just get again promises and empty words and come back empty-handed.”

Failure to address the concerns of African cotton countries contributed to the collapse of the Cancun trade summit in September 2003.

Last July, the 148 countries in the talks agreed — as part of a framework accord that helped jump-start the negotiations — to treat the cotton demands of African countries “expeditiously.”

Ngarmbatina Soukate, Chad’s minister of commerce, said, “We don’t want declarations; we want concrete results.”

Ibrahim Malloum, president of the African cotton association, said the issue affected the livelihoods of 15 million people in West Africa, compared with just 25,000 farmers in the U.S. According to Malloum, African producers are competitive and subject to market forces, whereas subsidized producers in rich countries “get good prices.”

This story first appeared in the October 20, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Malloum said African cotton countries are hoping the meeting in Hong Kong will put an end to all trade-distorting cotton subsidies. They are also seeking $250 million a year in compensation and a further $1 billion for the indirect costs that subsidies by rich countries are inflicting on the impoverished nations.

The pro-development advocacy group Oxfam International said in the last two farm years, subsidies to U.S. farmers have doubled. Oxfam estimates that, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data examining the period between August 1999 and July 2005, American cotton producers “received more than $18 billion in subsidies … The market value of this production during the same period was $23.39 billion.”

Meanwhile, African countries “have lost more than $350 million in potential export revenue as a result of depressed world prices.”

“U.S. failure to reform its cotton subsidies causes overproduction and dumping, pushes down world prices and leads to drastic losses for Africa,” said Celine Charveriat, the head of Oxfam’s fair-trade campaign.

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