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African Cotton Industry Meets Ahead of WTO Talks

In Kenya, participants at a regional workshop on the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) talks called for the United States and other rich nations to remove their agricultural subsidies, saying that they harm African cotton farmers.

Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori opened the two-day workshop by saying that subsidies to help American cotton producers have harmed cotton producers in Africa and around the world.

"At United States $4 billion annually, those subsidies are three times as large as the United States aid to Africa, and are nearly a fifth of the total value of world cotton production. The World Bank/IMF estimates show that these subsidies have depressed world price by about 12 cents per pound, meaning the price is at least 20 percent lower that it would be otherwise," he explained.

Mr. Awori says the American subsidies have caused West African poor farmers to lose $250 million a year. He says that in the West African country, Benin, a one percent increase in the price of cotton decreases poverty by 1.5 percent.

The vice president was speaking at a workshop bringing together cotton farmers, researchers, government officials and activists from about 10 African countries.

Their aim is to submit a document outlining the concerns of the African cotton industry and recommendations to negotiators at the upcoming WTO, talks, to be held in Hong Kong from December 13-18.

The WTO talks are meant to conclude what has become known as the "Doha Round" talks that were held in Qatar in 2001 to address how to reform trade policies in rich nations to help developing nations.

African and other developing nations are calling for greater access to international markets and the elimination of export and domestic subsidies in rich countries so that developing nations can be more competitive in world markets.

An official with the Kenya office of ActionAid International, Irungu Houghton, tells VOA the African market consists of some 800 million people. He says the African textile industry can grow, if local textile industries are better protected and if textile exports increase.

"Africa should not be asked to develop on terms that the United States did not develop on," he said. "America developed because it was able to export its commodities, continues to export its commodities and the American government continues to provide high subsidies for what they call strategic industries."

Mr. Houghton says African countries need to take a unified stand on key trade issues, to have maximum impact on the talks.