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Campaigns---> Clothes for a Change Home/News---> Article

Lobby for Cotton Fair Trade Gathers Steam

The Times of Zambia (Ndola) May 20, 2003

Frank Katope

Cotton! Cotton! Cotton! The crop is fast becoming one of the world's leading cash crops that industrialised countries like the United States of America are heavily subsidising its farmers to ensure optimum production. Huge profits being eked out of cotton production in Western countries have, however, led to a commercial syndrome which limping Third World countries without any subsidies to buttress them, are complaining about.

Western or the G8 countries, in their ostensible position to maintain a market monopoly and a culture of dependence on the part of cotton farmers in developing countries, have adamantly tightened the screws around the cotton market to ensure that only theirs "which is cheaply produced due to subsidies has an edge over others". A fierce campaign is now raging and African cotton producers have locked horns with Western countries over their attitude to sideline cotton farmers from the continent.

According to Oxfam policy papers briefing, highlighting the impact of American cotton subsidies on Africa, the US cotton industry is destroying livelihoods in Africa and other developing regions. The dossier states that by encouraging over production and dumping, these subsidies are driving down world prices, now at their lowest levels since the great depression. While America's cotton barons are getting richer on government transfers, African farmers are forever bearing the consequences.

Agricultural subsidies in USA are at the heart of a deep crisis in world cotton markets. American cotton farmers are first among equals in the harvesting of subsidies. They reap windfall financial gains from government transfers as their African colleagues continue struggling against a heavy tide. The iron is that while the US government loudly advocates free trade and open markets in developing countries, it is not showing tenacity in following what it preaches.

Its subsidies are destroying markets for vulnerable farmers. No region on the face of earth is more affected by the unfair competition in world cotton markets than sub-Saharan Africa. In Brazil, the government has challenged US cotton subsidies through the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The challenge has a wider significance such that if it succeeds, it will improve prospects for poverty reduction in a large group of cotton dependent nations. "More importantly, it will address a problem that is undermining the potential of agricultural trade to reduce poverty namely the use of subsidies to dump agricultural produce on world markets at prices that bear no relation to the costs of production. "World cotton prices have fallen by half since the mid-1990s. Adjusted for inflation, they are now lower than any time since the great depression of the 1930s.

Only a limited recovery is in prospect," states the dossier on cotton compiled by Oxfam. The dossier adds that Central and West Africa have been devastated as a result of the cotton trade imbalance. It says more than 10 million people in those countries depend directly on cotton production and many millions are affected. Cotton is also for many Third World countries the major source of foreign exchange and government revenue.

The US bears much of the responsibility for the slump in world prices. The only language Americans can understand to force it to undo the unfavourable trade disposition towards developing countries is heavy lobbying laced with a relentless showdown. Since Zambia grows cotton on an appreciably high scale, the Southern African nation has also joined West African countries whistle blowers to declare America offside for its deeds that are crippling the agricultural and trade sectors in Third World countries. Since the initiation of major agricultural reforms in Zambia, cotton production and processing has grown rapidly and now ranks as one of the most important sources of crop income among small scale farmers and agro-business firms.

A cotton industry consultative meeting convened by the Ministry of Agriculture was on two occasions seven years ago held in Lusaka to discuss problems and challenges facing the cotton industry. The meeting brought together representatives of farmers' groups, assemblers, ginners research and extension systems and other stakeholders to identify underlying causes of the current crisis facing the cotton industry. A set of actions to salvage the cotton industry that had been entangled in the unfair trade dictates of the American government were tailored out. Countries like Chad, Benin, Mali and Ivory Coast are taking an aggressive stance against American agricultural "imperialism." Zambia is shaking out of its slumber to add an ounce of energy pounding the US trade and agricultural attitude towards Third World countries in the cotton industry.

The lobby for a fair cotton deal has so far brought at least 50,000 Zambians on board. The organisation development and community management trust (ODCMT) is in the forefront of the campaign in Zambia to influence change in the terms and trade conditions that govern world trade. The rules which are characterised by unfair trade practices, double standards and exploitation are being taken head-on in league with other affected countries. The campaign to crush to grit unfair trade terms has been dubbed "Make Trade Fair." "More than 50,000 Zambians have now added their voices to this popular campaign by appending their signatures to a petition to make trade a fair practice worldwide," Kennedy Mulenga at the helm of the campaign team is quoted as saying.

Mr Mulenga lamented in Lusaka recently that the imbalance in global trade favoured developed countries resulting in impoverished millions of people in developing countries including Zambia, becoming even more poorer. The Make Trade Fair" campaign, according to Mr Mulenga, aims at mobilising at least 500,000 signatures through petitions to WTO leaders at a meeting to be held in Cancun in Mexico later next month.

Ripples of protest will also be sent through the assembly hall where heads of state will gather for a world conference on trade at the WTO headquarters. Cotton production in Zambia has doubled since the dismantling of Lintco. It will indeed be unfair and in fact economical suicidal to sit back and watch local cotton produced at great expense, give little returns all because of the big baron-America being selfish and applying double standards. The big noise to force a change of heart on the part of US which Zambia is adding her vocals to, should not be drowned but should echo far and wide if the world trade order is to swing in favour of Third World countries like Zambia.

The "Trade Fair" campaign will no doubt change the landscape of developing nations agricultural sector, by forcing US to embrace small brothers and sisters in the trade arena with humane instead of squeezing them. Bravo trade fair campaign! ______________________________________

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