Africa Nations to Consider Cotton Case If Nairobi Talks Fail

African nations are considering presenting a case against governments they accuse of distorting trade in cotton if this week’s negotiations in the Kenyan capital don’t deliver a favorable deal.

Cotton producers from poor countries have for over a decade unsuccessfully lobbied developed countries to significantly reduce or eliminate subsidies to their cotton farmers that they say create unfair global competition. The U.S. last year agreed to pay Brazil $300 million to settle a dispute over cotton subsidies.

Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, the so-called Cotton Four or C-4 countries that have formed a committee under the World Trade Organization, are considering filing a case under the body’s dispute resolution mechanism as early as January.

“We intend to go to dispute resolution like Brazil did if we don’t get an agreement this week,” Aya Thiam-Diallo, a Malian representative at the Geneva-based WTO and current coordinator of C-4, said in an interview on Wednesday in Nairobi where she is attending the organization’s 10th ministerial conference.

The C-4 has submitted to the conference a draft ministerial declaration on removing subsidies and domestic support “that have a distorting effect,” according to a statement e-mailed by the WTO. The C-4 “will hold the countries concerned responsible for any failure in the negotiations on cotton, whose importance to the survival of many small producers in the poor countries throughout the world, and in Africa in particular, has been amply demonstrated,” it said. The ministerial conference concludes Friday.

“We would like the farmers to derive a living from cotton because we know they can if we have a fair competitive market,” Aziz Mahamat Saleh, Chad’s economy minister, told reporters Wednesday in Nairobi.

One of the outcomes of this week’s talks should be “a very small package on the cotton issue,” South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said Wednesday in an interview. That “won’t include the most important pillar of cotton issues, which is domestic support, but will include some level of market access and some level of financial support to cotton farmers in poor countries in Africa, among other places,” he said.

The WTO has a reputation for stalled progress on global trade agreements, notably the Doha round, and nations agreeing on deals outside the organization’s mandate.

“Over two thirds of the members agree with us on cotton, but a few developed nations have refused to change their positions for over 10 years,” Thiam-Diallo said.

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