The perception being fostered by “several self-serving international organizations” that U.S. agricultural policies drive the world agricultural economy “is ludicrous,” says National Cotton Council Chairman Bobby Greene.
“Despite the protests of other countries, the 2002 farm bill did not break our country's World Trade Organization commitment,” he told members of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association at their summer meeting at Branson, Mo.
Greene, himself a ginner at Courtland, Ala., said the “current situation gives us cause for serious concern” as negotiations continue on the WTO's Doha Round, a Central American Free Trade Agreement, a Free Trade Area of the Americas, and several other bilateral agreements, including Australia and possibly Taiwan.
In recent contacts with Washington officials and in trade testimony before the U.S. Senate, Greene outlined the council's position on the type of Central America Free Trade Agreement that can benefit the U.S. cotton industry.
“We strongly communicated the view that good farm policy and good trade policy are interrelated; that U.S. farm subsidies and U.S. farm/textile tariffs must not be unilaterally eliminated or reduced; that Congress should insist that the Bush administration demonstrate that existing agreements are aggressively enforced before approving new agreements; and that any trade agreements that may be negotiated with other countries in this hemisphere must include provisions to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. interests in the global trade economy.”
The council is also working with the administration and Congress, Greene said, to address China's continued refusal to comply with its WTO commitment to open its markets to raw cotton imports. “We've also registered serious concerns about U.S. negotiations with Vietnam for apparel quotas and have worked with the administration for the release of China safeguard rules with respect to import surges.”
In recent testimony before the House Agriculture Committee, Greene said the council's statement served as a reminder that “despite the protests of other countries, the 2002 farm bill did not break our country's WTO commitment, and its expected spending levels are well within WTO ceilings.”
Pointing to the “unprecedented number” of trade negotiations currently under way, he said the council also urged the United States “to devote necessary resources to insure compliance with agreements already negotiated — for example, with China, where the U.S. cotton industry has tried without success for over a year to get them to comply with the terms of their WTO agreement.”
The council has joined with 13 other fiber and textile organizations in a coalition effort to persuade the Bush administration to initiate the China safeguards, Greene said. “Coalition members will be making contacts with congressional leaders to build support for this effort,” as well as urging the administration to maintain U.S. textile tariffs under the WTO until other countries reduce their tariffs to U.S. levels.
And he said, the United States should refuse to accept tariff preference levels in the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and other similar agreements, to keep China and other countries from trans-shipping textile components into the United States duty-free.
Although it is related to farm bill defense, Greene said the council's effort to oppose Brazil's WTO complaint against the U.S. cotton program “is primarily considered a trade issue, and we're working closely with the USDA and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to coordinate our defense.”
Despite this, he noted, the U.S. cotton industry continues “a positive relationship” with members of Brazil's cotton industry, and a U.S. delegation recently participated in 10-day mission to Brazil's cotton and textile industries. The trip, in which Greene participated, “was designed to foster relationships between our countries and to obtain information about Brazil's production and manufacturing industries.
“There is tremendous production capacity in Brazil, and fashioning a policy to incorporate them in a free trade agreement will be a challenge.”
Greene said the council continues to deal with “an incessant media attack” on U.S. farm policy, with “allegations that our cotton program is responsible for depressing the cotton prices of many producing countries in Africa. This stream of articles and editorials is supporting the call by these countries for a reduction and the eventual elimination of cotton subsidies by developed countries.
“We're providing a strong response to these media attacks,” he said, including a fact sheet for key congressmen to use during the appropriations debate that “clearly explains that our nation's agricultural subsidies are not responsible for declining world prices.”
The media claims, Greene said, “ignore a number of important facts, including the negative effects of some African marketing systems on their growers, and that the combined effect of U.S. programs has had a very positive impact on world cotton prices.”
Members of the Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas-Missouri Cotton Ginners associations attended the Branson meeting.