July 11, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- New York Times: After
too many years of Africa's being pushed to the global background,
it's heartening to see the world's attention being focused
on our continent. International support both financial and
otherwise is certainly needed to help combat the severe poverty
and disease gripping our nations. But first and foremost,
Africa needs to be allowed to take its destiny into its own
hands. Only self-reliance and economic growth and development
will allow Africa to become a full member of the world community.
With the creation of the New Economic Partnership for African
Development in 2001, African leaders have committed themselves
to following the principles of good governance and a market
economy. Nothing is more central to this goal than participating
in world trade. As the presidents of two of Africa's least
developed countries Burkina Faso and Mali we are eager to
participate in the multilateral trading system and to take
on its rights and obligations.
Cotton is our ticket into the world market. Its production
is crucial to economic development in West and Central Africa,
as well as to the livelihoods of millions of people there.
Cotton accounts for up to 40 percent of export revenues and
10 percent of gross domestic product in our two countries,
as well as in Benin and Chad. More than that, cotton is of
paramount importance to the social infrastructure of Africa,
as well as to the maintenance of its rural areas.
This vital economic sector in our countries is seriously
threatened by agricultural subsidies granted by rich countries
to their cotton producers. According to the International
Cotton Advisory Committee, cotton subsidies amounted to about
$5.8 billion in the production year of 2001 to 2002, nearly
equal the amount of cotton trade for this same period. Such
subsidies lead to worldwide overproduction and distort cotton
prices, depriving poor African countries of their only comparative
advantage in international trade.
Not only is cotton crucial to our economies, it is the sole
agricultural product for our countries to trade. Although
African cotton is of the highest quality, our production costs
are about 50 percent lower than in developed countries even
though we rely on manual labor. In wealthier countries, by
contrast, lower-quality cotton is produced on large mechanized
farms, generating little employment and having a questionable
impact on the environment. Cotton there could be replaced
by other, more valuable crops.
In the period from 2001 to 2002, America's 25,000 cotton
farmers received more in subsidies some $3 billion than the
entire economic output of Burkina Faso, where two million
people depend on cotton. Further, United States subsidies
are concentrated on just 10 percent of its cotton farmers.
Thus, the payments to about 2,500 relatively well-off farmers
has the unintended but nevertheless real effect of impoverishing
some 10 million rural poor people in West and Central Africa.
Something has to be done. Along with the countries of Benin
and Chad, we have submitted a proposal to the World Trade
Organization which is meeting in Cancún, Mexico, in
September to discuss agricultural issues that calls for an
end to unfair subsidies granted by developed countries to
their cotton producers. As an interim measure, we have also
proposed that least-developed countries be granted financial
compensation for lost export revenues that are due to those
Our demand is simple: apply free trade rules not only to
those products that are of interest to the rich and powerful,
but also to those products where poor countries have a proven
comparative advantage. We know that the world will not ignore
our plea for a fair playing field. The World Trade Organization
has said it is committed to addressing the problems of developing
countries. The United States has convinced us that a free
market economy provides the best opportunities for all members
of the world community. Let us translate these principles
into deeds at Cancún.
Amadou Toumani Touré and Blaise Compaoré are
the presidents, respectively, of Mali and Burkina Faso.