At a time when U.S. domestic cotton subsidies are at an all-time low, the federal government has decided to move forward with several initiatives to help the four leading African cotton-producing countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, otherwise known as the C-4) engage in global trade. As the 8th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization geared up in Geneva on Thursday, U.S. representatives resolved cotton- trade issues with the world’s Least Developed Countries by extending duty-free, quota-free access for upland cotton—the most widely planted species of cotton on the planet—and pledging to drum up legislative support for a new cotton assistance program when USAID’s West African Cotton Improvement Program expires in April.

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The proposed new program, which will require Congressional action before it’s enacted, will provide up to $16 million over four years—subject to the outcome of the budget process, of course—to improve the capacity and efficiency of the cotton sector in West Africa by “leveraging private-sector cotton initiatives, catalyzing increased commercial investment for cash crops, particularly cotton, and strengthening extension services to increase the adoption of improved techniques and technology and expand market linkages,” according to a fact sheet from the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

The existing West African Cotton Improvement Program has been criticized for shutting out other African countries struggling to enter the global market.

Charles Parker, chairman of the National Cotton Council of America, praised the move. “Cotton producers in West Africa face significant challenges even in these times of strong prices, so we support the continuation of an outreach program like WACIP, which can provide West African farmers an opportunity to increase their income to benefit their families and communities,” he says in a statement. “U.S. cotton farmers are committed to continue their successful, self-funded efforts to build consumer demand on a global basis, which is benefiting cotton farmers in all countries.”

The existing West African Cotton Improvement Program has been criticized, however, for shutting out other African countries struggling to enter the global market. Detractors have also accused U.S. trade representatives of slapping a band-aid on a much larger problem: domestically subsidized cotton, which has long driven down global market prices and made it virtually impossible for other nations to compete.

This year’s edition of the “Doha Round,” which originally began in 2001, covered issues such as the creation of a framework to facilitate membership of the LDCs to the WTO, longer protection of intellectual property rights for the LDCs, and establishing preferential rules for services offered by the LDCs. Once again, no agreement was reached.

+ World Trade Organization

[Via Ecotextile News]