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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 June, 2005, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
Wolfowitz calls for subsidy cuts
Paul Wolfowitz visits a market in Bauchi, Nigeria during his African tour
Paul Wolfowitz has made Africa his number one priority
Wealthy nations must reduce their agricultural subsidies to help African producers enter new markets, World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz has argued.

He said the World Bank would press for subsidy reform at the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Hong Kong this year.

His comments could put him in conflict with the US government which provides significant support to its farmers.

Mr Wolfowitz is on a week-long tour of Africa, his first overseas mission.

Call for change?

African countries have long complained that subsidies given to farmers in the West depress world prices and exclude producers from poorer countries from accessing many markets.

During a visit to a cotton-processing company in Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso, Mr Wolfowitz said his agency would press for reform of agricultural subsidies to be high on the agenda at the WTO's summit in Hong Kong later this year.

We will be having a strong voice in favour of reducing subsidies worldwide
Paul Wolfowitz

The summit is seen as a vital staging post in efforts to conclude a new global trading agreement - a successor to the current Doha trade round - by the end of 2006.

"I think the key to tackling the problem of cotton subsidies which obviously hurts poor farmers in Burkina Faso and other poor countries is tackling agricultural subsidies across the board," Mr Wolfowitz said.

"We will be having a strong voice in favour of reducing subsidies worldwide."

Major export

Burkina Faso and other West African cotton producers argue that subsidies paid to farmers in developed countries cost them at least $1bn (553m) a year in lost sales.

The WTO ruled earlier this year that cotton subsidies paid to US farmers were illegal and should be stopped.

Cotton producers in west Africa
African cotton producers say subsidies depress world prices

Farmers in Burkina Faso - West Africa's largest cotton exporter producing 600,000 tonnes a year - welcomed Mr Wolfowitz's comments as a sign that he recognised their problems in tapping new markets.

"I think he knows of the difficulties we have in cotton production," Celestin Tiendrebeogo, executive director of the country's National Cotton Board, told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"I think he is very sensitive."

Cotton is crucial to Burkina Faso's economy, accounting for about 60% of the country's national income.

The country's cotton industry believe global subsidies are depriving it of up to $22m in annual revenue.

Real progress

Since taking the helm of the world's main development agency in April, Mr Wolfowitz has signalled Africa as his main priority.

He has pledged to make "real progress" in tackling poverty on the continent.

On Wednesday, Mr Wolfowitz travelled to Ouagadougou, the Burkina Faso capital, for talks with President Blaise Compaore.

He will then travel onto the Rwandan capital Kigali before concluding his African tour - which began in Nigeria - with a trip to South Africa.

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