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African Countries Demand an End to US Cotton Subsidies

November 19, 2004

By JONATHAN FOWLER, Associated Press Writer

GENEVA -
The United States must live up to the spirit of a deal with poor
countries and halt financial aid to American cotton farmers, African
officials said Thursday.

On the eve of a World Trade Organization (news - web sites) meeting on
cotton, West African diplomats said subsidies in rich nations cause
artificially low international prices and hurt farmers in developing
countries.

"These subsidies should be removed — I'm not saying lessened, but removed,"
said Samuel Amehou, Benin's ambassador to the WTO.

"We don't want promises, because the situation is urgent. We want
solutions," Amehou said.

No immediate comment was available from U.S. trade officials.

Cotton represents about 30 percent of export earnings for countries in West
and Central Africa, and at least 10 million people depend directly on cotton
production.

African officials estimate that the cotton-producing nations of West and
Central Africa lose at least $1 billion every year because of heavy
subsidies paid by the United States, as well as the European Union (news -
web sites) and China, to their domestic cotton industries.

Under an accord reached on the sidelines of WTO talks in July, Washington
and a handful of African countries agreed to the creation of a special WTO
subcommittee to deal with cotton within the global body's broader
agriculture negotiations.

The committee, open to all 148 WTO member governments, is scheduled to be
established Friday and is meant to look at a West African proposal for the
elimination of export and domestic subsidies by rich producers.

The United States — the planet's second-largest cotton grower and largest
exporter — was long reluctant to consider the cotton issue.

Under the deal on creating the subcommittee, African nations dropped demands
that cotton be put on a separate "fast track" to avoid it getting bogged
down in general WTO agriculture talks. They also gave in on a request for
compensation until subsidies were eliminated.

Speaking alongside ambassadors from Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, Amehou
acknowledged that poor nations have limited means to pressure their wealthy
counterparts.

Aid for American cotton farmers has also come under fire from other WTO
members.

Earlier this year, a WTO panel ruled in favor of Brazil, which said many
U.S. cotton programs include illegal export subsidies or domestic payments
that are higher than permitted by WTO rules.

Brazil cited $12.5 billion paid in subsidies to American farmers between
August 1999 and July 2003 alone.

Washington appealed the ruling last month, insisting that its payments to
farmers are within permitted levels.