- President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, in an address to a world trade summit in Cancún, urged Western countries to sign an agreement to reduce and eventually eliminate cotton subsidies. Cotton is a major agricultural product in West Africa, but large subsidies to especially US producers complicate the sale of African cotton on world markets.
President Compaoré told the participants at the Cancún meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) West and Central African countries were losing more revenues from Western cotton subsidies than they received in development aid from the same countries.
A country like Mali, during 2001, had "received 37 millions of dollars in aid, but lost 43 millions, due to lower export revenues as a consequence of other producer countries' cotton subsidies," said Mr Compaoré.
The Burkinabe President reminded his listeners that West and Central African countries were following the free trade principles outlined by WTO. Due to this and structural adjustment programmes prescribed by the World Bank and IMF, countries in the region gradually had "eliminated subsidies to their agricultural sector," he said.
- However, the impact of these reforms on our countries' development has to date been nullified by the multiform subsidies still provided by some WTO member states to their agriculture, which is in total contradiction with WTO basic principles, complained Mr Compaoré.
Thus, for the year 2001 alone, rich countries had provided subsidies to their farmers, which amounted to six times the amount of their development aid, respectively 311 and 55 billions of dollars. "Moreover, subsidies provided to cotton farmers in rich countries are 60 percent higher that the overall gross domestic product (GDP) of Burkina Faso," said Mr Compaoré.
The Burkinabe President held these subsidies had caused "economic and social crises in African cotton producing countries." As a consequence of cotton subsidies, in 2001, Burkina Faso had lost 1 percent of its GDP and 12 percent of its export incomes, Mali 1.7 percent and 8 percent, and Benin 1.4 percent and 9 percent respectively.
- Our farmers produce the kilogram of cotton 50 percent cheaper than their competitors from developed countries, ranking them amongst the most competitive in the world, said Mr Compaoré. Still, they could not compete on international markets due to Western subsidies.
In 2001, cotton production in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad, accounted for 5 to 10 percent of gross domestic product and an average of about 30-40 percent of overall export revenues, the President informed.
More than ten millions of people in West and Central Africa directly depend on cotton production, and several other millions of people are indirectly affected by the distortion of world market prices due to production and export subsidies to this agricultural product.
- While cotton accounts for only a small portion of economic activity in industrialised countries, in all our states, it represents a determining and critical factor for poverty reduction policies as well as for political and social stability, President Compaoré said. "Through induced effects on infrastructure development, education and basic health services, cotton production acts as an essential link within our countries’ development strategies."
Due to these circumstances, the Burkinabe President at the meeting launched an appeal against Western cotton subsidies, "in the name of several millions of women and men, who live in least developed countries and for whom cotton is the main means of subsistence." He thus asked WTO member states to sign an agreement to reduce and eventually eliminate cotton subsidies.
- Our countries are not asking for charity, neither are we requesting preferential treatment or additional aid, said Mr Compaoré. "We solely demand that, in conformity with WTO basic principles, the free market rule be applied. Our producers are ready to face competition on the world cotton market - under the condition that it is not distorted by subsidies."
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