Oxfam dismisses US cotton market access offer as 'empty promise'

Published: 15 December 2005

Oxfam International today dismissed an offer from US Trade Representative Rob Portman to offer duty- and quota-free access for West African cotton exports to the US market. The offer, made on the third day of WTO talks in Hong Kong, brings cotton fibre exports in line with an existing US duty-free programme known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), but West Africa does not export cotton to America and does not need more market access. Subsidies and dumping are the problem.

Oxfam International today dismissed an offer from US Trade Representative Rob Portman to offer duty- and quota-free access for West African cotton exports to the US market.


The offer, made on the third day of WTO talks in Hong Kong, brings cotton fibre exports in line with an existing US duty-free programme known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), but West Africa does not export cotton to America and does not need more market access. Subsidies and dumping are the problem.

"This is an empty promise. Africa does not export a single gram of cotton to the United States and has not done so for years," said Phil Bloomer, head of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign. "The problem for West African cotton farmers is not market access – it is US subsidies that lead to dumping. The United States must immediately eliminate all of its cotton subsidies and put a stop once and for all to this unfair system."

Federal subsidies to the 25,000 US cotton farmers were worth more than $4.2 billion dollars in 2004-2005 – more than the gross national product of Burkina Faso, one of four West African cotton producing nations whose stand against the United States in September 2003 contributed to the failure of a round of WTO talks in Cancun, Mexico.

Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad and Mali baulked at a US decision to deny them compensation for the impact of US cotton subsidies on their farmers, worth some $400 million to the more than 25 million Africans who depend on cotton for their livelihoods.

"This offer is like sticking a bandaid on a wooden leg – our problem in West Africa is not market access; it is subsidies and how they impact prices," said Senegal's Bachir Diop, the vice president of the Association of Cotton Industries of Africa (ACA). "Right now, in many rural areas in Senegal, farmers and gin workers are hoping for news of progress towards the phasing out of subsidies. That and only that will boost prices and improve the conditions of the millions of people who depend on the industry."

West African cotton producers and negotiators have warned they would reject any global deal to help them and other poor countries should the US fail to swiftly phase out their subsidies.

"We have no interest in this because it changes nothing about our fight against subsidies, our fight to earn an honest living and not be dependent on handouts," said Malian cotton producer Seydou Coulibaly, a representative of the AOPP producer federation in Mali. "If this nonsense continues, we see no reason to remain members in the WTO."
 
Added Oxfam's Bloomer: "The United States is trying to deny the price depressing impact of their subsidies. But this impact has been proven at the WTO court and the US must face facts. The multi-billion dollar subsidies given each year to US farmers depress world prices and ruin the lives of millions of Africans. They must be stopped."

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Oxfam in Hong Kong: Amy Barry +852 95164660; Laura Rusu +852 95163305

Cotton farmer representatives in Hong Kong: Francis Traore, president, AproCA +852 640-61758; Somda Rose, communications, AproCA +852 994-8196

Oxfam in West Africa: Sally Baden: +221 666-1084

Cotton farmer representatives in West Africa:
GSCVM Mali (AProCA member), Soloba Mady Keita: + 223 698 0514, Seydou Coulibaly: 00 223 613 2832;
FNPC Senegal, Vice President AProCA, Moussa Sabaly: +221 565 9360;
UNPCB Burkina Faso (AProCA member): Seydou Ouedrago: 00 226 76 560 995