As a follow-on to the December 2011 announcement from the US Trade Representative’s Office that the West African Cotton Improvement Program (WACIP) would be funded for an additional four years, the National Cotton Council of America (NCC) last week hosted a meeting of US cotton industry officials and government officials from Chad, Benin and Burkina Faso.
The Council described the Washington DC meeting with West and Central African countries as an effort to build a foundation for better communication and establish the necessary groundwork for cooperation on issues of mutual interest.
NCC Chairman Chuck Coley mentioned recent changes in US farm law and asked the delegation to focus on areas of common interest, instead of a cotton policy that many in Africa believe puts the continent’s farmers at a disadvantage.
"I think we agree that promoting the increased consumption of cotton by the world's consumers is our top priority," said Mr. Coley. He said that US cotton farmers have contributed substantial financial support to promotion programs designed "to ensure that cotton is competitive in all end use markets and is the first choice of consumers."
He noted cotton’s research and promotion program, which has been supported by US cotton producers with a per bale assessment since 1960. Moreover, producer check-off dollars have been used to conduct highly successful generic cotton promotion programs throughout the world, he said.
The NCC chairman said the industry is proud of the outreach program initiated by the US industry that served as the predecessor and basis for the West African Cotton Improvement Program. After initially funding the program at $27 million for seven years that ended in April 2012, the US Trade Representative's Office has added another $16 million to take the program into 2016.
"Now we want to work with you and your farmers to identify ways to improve the program to ensure it yields the maximum possible benefits for your farmers and industries,” said Mr. Coley. “We need feedback to know which activities have generated the best results and what programs should be initiated in the future."
Coley said the NCC supports the extension of duty-free, quota-free access to US markets for raw upland cotton produced in the countries designated as least developed by the United Nations.
"We support the commitment made by US officials last year at the WTO ministerial," he said.
Coley told the group that the NCC has conveyed its support for prompt enactment of legislation to extend the eligibility of products containing third-party fabrics before it expires later this year, recognizing its importance to employment in Africa. He also said the NCC shares concerns that extending duty-free, quota-free access to textile products from Vietnam and Bangladesh could seriously erode the benefits of African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) for the African countries.
The National Cotton Council is addressing three core issues -- market access, export subsidies and domestic support – about which the West Africans are concerned, Mr. Coley told the delegation.
"We eliminated an export subsidy and our export credit programs are being substantially modified," he noted. "We have supported enhanced market access by supporting duty-free, quota-free access for your fiber and by the extension of the important textile market access provisions in AGOA. We also have addressed your concern about our domestic supports by proposing significant reforms to the US cotton program for inclusion in the new farm law."
In closing, Mr. Coley stressed the issues that US and West African growers have in common.
"We look forward to engaging in a dialogue with your industry representatives and we will look forward to your responses about how WACIP can be improved," he said. "Your producers will benefit when yields are enhanced, when they receive a larger share of the world price and when there is true competition for their business. We believe enhanced communications, as well as programs like WACIP and others, can advance those objectives."
Questions: Which issues (US and African) are most critical and should be addressed most immediately?
Are most recent changes in US cotton policy pertaining to producer supports, export subsidies and credit programs enough to allay the concerns of African growers?
What sort of investment (time, money, education, etc) should be expected from African countries participating in the West African Cotton Improvement Program to ensure its success?