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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Africa battles US over cotton
Cotton picker in Sudan
10 million Africans depend on cotton

Four of the poorest countries in the world have asked the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to tackle the US over cotton subsidies.

Benin, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali have together written to the WTO asking for the subsidies to be scrapped and to be compensated while those negotiations are taking place.

Samuel Amehou, ambassador for Benin in Geneva, confirmed that the letter had been sent and said that millions of African farmers were suffering because of the subsidies.

"Whole families are being left without any financial resources and poverty, of course, is rising," Mr Amehou told BBC News Online.

The US, which is a net exporter of cotton, gave their cotton farmers $3.9bn worth of subsidies last financial year, three times more than the aid it gives to Africa.

'Double standards'

The subsidies have led to massive over-production of cotton, causing cotton crops to halve in value since the mid-1990s.

American and European taxpayers are financing the destruction of livelihoods of millions of cotton farmers in Africa
Celilne Charveriat

Oxfam estimates that Africa is losing $300m a year as a result of the cotton subsidies and that prices would rise by a quarter if the unfair subsidies were eliminated.

"American and European taxpayers are financing the destruction of livelihoods of millions of cotton farmers in Africa," said Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam's advocacy office in Geneva.

"Cotton is a very clear case where what the African countries want is free trade and the chance to compete," she told BBC News Online.

"It exemplifies the double standards and double speak of the West."

Short-term relief

About ten million people depend on cotton in Africa, and exports should be competitive if all things were equal.

The four West African countries, led by Benin, want the issue to be addressed at the next round of trade talks in Mexico in September.

They are asking for the gradual removal of subsidies, and a clear deadline for their total elimination, together with compensation for their farmers in the interim.

Chris Carnegy, BBC World Service Business Reporter
"Africa is losing about $300m a year under the current system."

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