- The World Trade Organisation (WTO) today agreed to create a body to focus specifically on cotton, following demands for a fairer cotton trade by Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. Cotton is now to be "addressed ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically" within the WTO's upcoming agriculture negotiations.
The cotton initiative that now has been realised was originally raised both in the WTO and in earlier agriculture negotiations by Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. It describes the damage that the four poor Sahelian countries believe has been caused to them by cotton subsidies in richer countries.
The Sahelian cotton initiative calls for these subsidies to be eliminated, and for compensation to be paid to the four countries while the subsidies are being paid out, to cover economic losses caused by the subsidies.
The governments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali claim to have documented that high cotton subsidies in the US and EU cost them several times more expenses than the combined development aid to the same countries. High subsidies in the rich world make West African cotton more expensive than North American cotton, even though African salaries are close to zero.
The WTO today decided to create a body to focus specifically on cotton, following the West African initiative headed by Burkinabe President Blaise Compaoré. The new sub-committee on cotton is to be open to all WTO members and observer governments.
The new body's terms of reference are to draw on the so-called "July 2004 Package decision". This package stipulates that cotton is to be addressed "ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically" within the agriculture negotiations.
The sub-committee is tasked to work on "all trade-distorting policies affecting the sector," in all three key areas of the agriculture talks - the "three pillars of market access, domestic support and export competition," according to the WTO.
Its work will take into account the need for "coherence between trade and development aspects of the cotton issue." This is a reference to the two major components of the original proposal: trade, which is covered by the negotiations on trade barriers, domestic support and export subsidies; and development, which covers various aspects of helping the less developed cotton producers face market conditions and other needs, WTO says.
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