U.S. cotton farmers — already tired of being whipping boys for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal — are not likely to see much relief from such nonsense in 2004.

National Cotton Council President Mark Lange says the editorials in which the Times and Journal have tried to portray the U.S. cotton program as responsible for much of the poverty and terrorism in the Third World will probably continue.

Speaking at the Beltwide Cotton Conference, Lange said that while the U.S. cotton industry breathed a collective sigh of temporary relief following the “Cancun Collapse,” the chairman of the WTO is hard at work trying to restart trade talks with a new agenda.

Most farmers are aware that four African countries proposed language that would have brought an end to the U.S. cotton program when delegates to the Doha Round of the WTO met in Cancun, Mexico, last September.

“The Cancun meeting saw Brazil, India and China attempt to exert leadership of the ‘less developed countries’ to oppose initiatives of the developed countries,” said Lange. “Specifically, a group of 21 developing countries called for developed economies to completely eliminate quotas and tariffs and to dramatically reduce their domestic agricultural programs.”

The “Group of 21” proposal represented more than a dispute between developed and developing countries, according to Lange. “Ever since the United States first proposed an end to all agricultural subsidies way back in 1987, the European Union and the United States have each attempted to leverage developing countries against the other's agenda. That attempt to use the developing countries as leverage leads to a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering….”

Lange said the African cotton initiative was a case in point. Lange said the proposal seeking the immediate elimination of the U.S. and E.U. cotton programs and compensatory payments totaling about $1 billion from the latter to their governments' coffers should have been discarded immediately.

Instead, the WTO chairman's agenda for Cancun included a separate stand-alone cotton initiative, based on the West African countries' stated concerns that became a flashpoint for the developed vs. developing world headlines.

“Undoubtedly, the African initiative was encouraged by European interests, primarily as a way to pressure the United States,” said Lange. “The initiative itself was primarily the work of Oxfam, an international aid organization that receives heavy funding from some European governments.”

Oxfam has waged an effective campaign of misinformation attacking the U.S. cotton program — “based primarily on analysis from a critically flawed report issued by the International Cotton Advisory Committee in 2002.”

As the Cancun meeting unfolded, the U.S. Trade Representative countered with a proposal to examine all trade distorting aspects of fiber production and trade and production and trade in textiles and apparel.

“Many countries with significant man-made production facilities and complex domestic textile production support programs (India, Pakistan and China among others) applauded the African ‘cotton initiative,’ but suddenly had little to say regarding the broader, more comprehensive U.S. proposal,” said Lange.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com