Rogelio Condori Reyna, Secretary of ANPAL (the National Association of Cotton Producers) and Director of the Cañete-Mala Cotton Processing Plant. Credit: Renato Guimarães/Oxfam
Cotton farmers in South America and elsewhere are unfairly disadvantaged by US trade policy

Oxfam reaction to WTO judgement on US cotton subsidies

“American farm policy is broken and bloated, and now other sectors of the US economy may suffer as Brazil retaliates.”
Gawain Kripke
Policy Director for Oxfam America
Published: 31 August 2009

Washington, DC—The United States today has lost a battle in its dispute over cotton subsidies with Brazil at the World Trade Organization (WTO), said international organization Oxfam.

“Massive government subsidies for large-scale cotton growers in the United States are unfair and hurt farmers in poor countries. The WTO confirmed today the injury caused by these subsidies and authorized Brazil to retaliate against the US,” said Gawain Kripke, policy director for Oxfam America. “American farm policy is broken and bloated, and now other sectors of the US economy may suffer as Brazil retaliates.”

Total direct support to cotton production hovered over three billion dollars in the 2008-2009 growing season, or an equivalent of 50 cents per pound of actual production, according to the International Cotton Advisory Committee.

“The global trading system depends on countries obeying rules and submitting to orderly dispute resolution,” said Kripke. “Thus far, the US has ignored the ruling of the WTO adjudication and continues large subsidies for cotton production. If the US continues this way, the integrity of the multilateral trade system is at stake.”

An Oxfam study found that with a complete removal of US cotton subsidies, the world price of cotton would increase by 6-14%, resulting in additional income that could feed an additional million children for a year or pay school fees for at least two million children living in extremely poor West African cotton growing households.

The longstanding dispute started in 2002. In 2005, the WTO ruled that US cotton subsidies harmed Brazilian cotton farmers and violated WTO rules, but the US did little to abide by the ruling and reduce its trade distorting subsidies. In September 2006, Brazil asked for a WTO “compliance panel” to determine whether the US has done enough to comply with the ruling and the WTO confirmed that the US has failed to reform its agricultural subsidies enough to comply. Today’s ruling confirms that Brazil is entitled to start retaliation procedures, and possibly cross-retaliate by lifting intellectual property protections.