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European, African Nations Strike Deal on Cotton - 2004-07-06

European and African countries have struck a partnership to develop Africa's embattled and vital, cotton sector. The partnership emerged during a two-day meeting in Paris. But, it is unclear whether the collaboration will help end a deadlock over cotton in international trade negotiations.

Officials from African and European Union countries hailed their new partnership to boost the production and sale of African cotton, a source of livelihood for some 10 million people living in West and Central Africa.

The agreement stipulates that cotton producing countries in Africa must engage in a variety of reforms, including stimulating research in the cotton sector and continuing their fight against poverty. European countries must support the African initiatives.

Benin's Minister of Trade, Fatiou Akplogan, offered a guarded thumbs-up to the deal. "Minister Akplogan said the expectations of African countries had been taken into account in the agreement, but that they would be watching closely to see whether good intentions translated into concrete action."

African countries have been complaining for years that cotton subsidies to farmers in rich nations are pricing them out of the cotton market and destroying the livelihood of millions of impoverished African cotton farmers. But for years, cotton producing regions, including Europe and the United States, have been reluctant to remove those subsidies.

But European Commission representative Philip Mikos said the Paris meeting was not targeted at world trade negotiations taking place in nearby Geneva.

"This was not the purpose of this meeting. This meeting was to discuss how to implement development and development initiatives in the field of cotton," he said.

Earlier at the Paris meeting, European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy called on the World Trade Organization to cut rich nations cotton subsides, as part of a larger global trade agreement officials are trying to reach by the end of July.