afrol News, 14 December - Beninese President Thomas Boni Yayi today met with his US counterpart in the White House, where he praised American contributions to peace and development to the West Africa region. He however urged President George Bush to contribute more in the WTO negotiations over cotton, where Beninese and West African cotton is loosing out to highly subsidised US cotton.
Benin's recently elected President was given a relatively long audience at the Washington presidency - an honour not given all state leaders, not even European allies. This, observers hold, is a firm part of President Bush's very symbol-loaded policy of letting foreign leaders know what is expected of them. And Benin has developed very close ties to the US during the Bush administration.
Benin has moved politically much closer to Washington, while more on distance to France, during the last five years. Cotonou has signed a non-extradition deal with Washington aimed at supporting the Bush administration's opposition to the International Criminal Court, and military cooperation between the two countries has been highly upgraded.
Benin supports the US foreign policy as executed under President Bush - and for this, President Yayi was welcomed as a close friend at the White House. "I'm proud to announce today that you're one of the countries that we'll be concentrating our help upon," President Bush was able to tell his Beninese counterpart.
"We talked about the need for us to work together to deal with problems such as Darfur," President Bush further revealed, referring to further foreign policy issues that are specially important to the US government. The Beninese President had "recognised the genocide taking place in Darfur, as does the [US] administration," the host further said.
But talks, according to both presidents, had focused on development cooperation, aiming at boosting growth in Benin - one of Africa's most advanced democracies but still an utterly poor country. Earlier this year, Benin signed a US$ 307-million compact through the US "Millennium Challenge Account" to simplify the process of securing land titles and improve small-business access to financial services, and President Bush promised there was more aid to come.
President Yayi, on his behalf, also found opportunity to lobby for Benin's major current diplomatic challenge - the cotton trade talks that Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger want to make a major issue at the Doha round of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The four countries are mobilising other WTO members to put pressure on the US to cut its cotton subsidies so as to allow cotton production become sustainable in West Africa. Cotton production is the main employer in these countries, but extremely low world market prices see to that most people are kept in deep poverty. And the low prices are due to subsidies in industrialised countries - foremost the US.
"The Doha negotiations need to find a solution now, try to make it easier because cotton is but one of our important products in Africa," President Yayi told Mr Bush. "And in my country, two people out of three live out of cotton. It's the same reality in countries like Burkina-Faso, Mali, Senegal, where cotton is a very important product," he added.
"So some subsidies that go yet to some countries like America here cause a kind of dysfunctioning in our country and on the continent also. So America should help us smooth this mechanism. I am very happy to hear that America is trying to set up a parallel mechanism that would really help promote the production of cotton. So within short, the WTO will also reach an agreement," Benin's President optimistically concluded.
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