The U.S. government needs to make sure its trading partners live up to current trade agreements if it expects the support of U.S. agriculture in future trade negotiations, the chairman of the National Cotton Council said.

Alabama cotton ginner Bobby Greene told the House Agriculture Committee that assurances must be provided that “our trading partners will adhere to their agreements” if farm organizations are to continue to risk the livelihoods of their members.

He said the U.S. cotton industry's recent experiences with dramatic increases in Chinese textile imports offer a good example of such a lack of adherence to trade agreements:

During the past 15 months, textile imports from China to the U.S. rose by 140 percent.

Last year, in eight cotton-containing textile categories, imports surged 641 percent.

From January 2001 through May 2003, the textile industry lost 267,000 jobs, and hundreds of factories shut their doors.

“It has taken persistent efforts to get rules published for implementing a safeguard mechanism for this flood of Chinese imports,” Greene testified. “The long delay has permitted imports to grow to levels where the safeguard will be less meaningful. Unless the Bush administration is willing to use this safeguard tool, our domestic textile industry will be decimated.”

On the other hand, he said the NCC has tried unsuccessfully for more than a year to get China to comply with the terms of the U.S.-China World Trade Organization (WTO) accession agreement.

Regarding the WTO, Greene said the Doha Round of agricultural negotiations appears to be in “a shaky holding pattern” with some countries allowing their political objectives to prevent rational and equitable policies from being adopted.

He cited the recent plea from one African country's head of state to the WTO to end the U.S. cotton program and the statement that such an action would be a test of other countries' commitment to th

“The perception being fostered by several self-serving international organizations — that that U.S. agricultural policies drive the world agricultural economy — is simply ludicrous,” Greene noted.

“The attempt to blame the ills of the world's developing countries on the U.S. cotton program is naive, at best. It is based on seriously flawed economics. It is misleading the leaders of many African countries. It ignores the substantial trade preferences the United States provides to African countries to enable them to develop their textile and apparel processing industries.”

Greene told the panel that if U.S. agriculture's competitors can convince the United States to give up certain industries unilaterally, that is one less item they need to contend with during the real give-and-take of a negotiation.

“The United States drove the Uruguay Round reform process,” he said. “It has submitted ambitious proposals for multilateral, broad-based reform in the Doha Round. We urge the administration to reject the policies of division being fomented by various countries and certain international organizations.”

Besides the Doha Round, “the U.S. has embarked on an unprecedented number of trade negotiations,” he said.

“To be successful, adequate resources must be devoted not only to the negotiations, but also to compliance with existing agreements.”

He also noted that enhanced trade within the Western Hemisphere provides the greatest opportunity for the U.S. cotton textile industry to produce apparel products that are competitive with Asian imports.

“Our priorities in the Central America and South America free trade negotiations are reciprocal market access, effective rules-of-origin, no tariff preference levels, strong Customs enforcement provisions and effective rules to protect intellectual property.”

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com