Burkina Faso, Mali criticise cotton subsidies in the West

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Burkina Faso and Mali, which bill cotton as their ticket to the world market, have intensified their criticism of developed countries subsidising their cotton farmers to the detriment of cotton farmers in the South.
Subsidies given to cotton producers in developed countries to the detriment of African farmers is surfacing more and more in the limelight as the WTO conference in Cancun draws nigh in September.
"US Cotton Subsidies are Strangling Africa; Your Farm Subsidies Are Strangling us," Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore and Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure complained in a letter in a recent edition of the New York Times.
"Cotton is our ticket into the world market.
Its production is crucial to economic development in West and Central Africa, as well as to the livelihoods of millions of people there.
Cotton accounts for up to 40 percent of export revenues and 10 percent of gross domestic product in our two countries, as well as in Benin and Chad.
More than that, cotton is of paramount importance to the social infrastructure of Africa, as well as to the maintenance of its rural areas," the letter noted.
"As the presidents of two of Africa's least developed countries -- Burkina Faso and Mali -- we are eager to participate in the multilateral trading system and to take on its rights and obligations, this vital economic sector in our countries is seriously threatened by agricultural subsidies granted by rich countries to their cotton producers," both leaders said.
They suggested that international support - both financial and otherwise - is needed to help combat the severe poverty and disease gripping Africa.
But first and foremost, Africa needs to be allowed to take its destiny into its own hands.
"Only self-reliance and economic growth and development will allow Africa to become a full member of the world community," the letter pointed out.
According to the International Cotton Advisory Committee, cotton subsidies amounted to about $5.
8 billion in the production year of 2001 to 2002, nearly equal to the amount of cotton trade for this same period.
Such subsidies lead to worldwide overproduction and distort cotton prices, depriving poor African countries of their only comparative advantage in international trade.
"Not only is cotton crucial to our economies, it is the sole agricultural product for our countries to trade.
Although African cotton is of the highest quality, our production costs are about 50 percent lower than in developed countries even though we rely on manual labour, the presidents noted.
In wealthier countries, by contrast, they said lower-quality cotton is produced on large mechanised farms, generating little employment and having a questionable impact on the environment.
Other, more valuable crops could replace cotton there.
"Our demand is simple: apply free trade rules not only to those products that are of interest to the rich and powerful, but also to those products where poor countries have a proven comparative advantage," they added.

18 juillet 2003 20:03:00

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