GENEVA — Trade ministers from the African nations of Benin and Senegal upped the stakes in the global trade talks Wednesday, asserting they are not ready to go along with a U.S. proposal to handle a simmering dispute on cotton before addressing the overall agricultural sector.

The cotton subsidies the U.S. pays to its farmers have been a matter of dispute at the World Trade Organization, and earlier this year, a WTO court ruled they violate global trade rules, though the U.S. plans to appeal that decision.

Incensed over the subsidies of the U.S. and other wealthy nations, a large bloc of developing countries walked out of the last major round of trade talks, in Cancún, Mexico, bringing them to an abrupt end.

“There is no commitment” on cotton, said Benin’s minister of Industry and Commerce, Fatiou Akplogan, in a press conference. “I want to make that clear.”

Senegal’s minister of trade, Ousmane Ngom, added that African nations are united on cotton. He said, “We have an unwavering political will at the highest levels of our governments.”

The statements came as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick met with ministers from the European Union, Brazil, India and Australia to broker a deal to break the logjam over agricultural subsidies and market access for farm goods.

— John Zarocostas

This story first appeared in the July 29, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.