WTO countries meet to discuss the state of the cotton industry

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Cotton producers from around the world met late last week at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva to discuss cotton trade policies and to look for a way to prop up the industry amid a trend of falling prices, a trend that could affect African nations Burkina Faso, Benin and Chad especially hard, as cotton exports are a big part of their economic output.

The meeting is one of two required each year for World Trade Organization member countries with cotton interests. The meetings are designed to share best practices and identify current trends.

At last week's meeting, participants reviewed a paper that found few countries took advantage of the current initiative that gives subsidies to cotton farmers in certain countries.

The members also heard a forecast on the industry from the International Cotton Advisory Committee. The ICAC said the current fiscal year is likely to be the first time consumption will outpace production, as producers have pulled out of cotton amid falling prices. The U.S. maintains the largest market share of cotton exports, at 32 percent, while India was the world's leading producer last year.

The leading African exporters -- Burkina Faso, Mali, Ivory Coast, Benin, Cameroon and Chad -- all have increased exports since 2010-11, though meeting participants expressed an interest in seeing the industry grow stronger.

“The cotton sector is of vital importance to our countries,” Ambassador Thiam Diallo of Mali said, speaking for the “cotton four” countries — Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad and Mali — whose economies rely heavily on cotton exports.

Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Switzerland and the U.S. are just some of the countries that have contributed toward the $226 million that has been invested in cotton development in Africa.

Continuing this development of African cotton is seen as crucial to the well-being of several economies in Africa, where the countries who depend most on cotton exports are often some of the poorest. Yet these countries also lack the resources and market connections to interject their product into a very competitive international market.

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