Bobby Greene says U.S. cotton industry members are sick and tired of U.S. trade negotiators writing trade agreements that benefit everyone but the U.S. citizens they represent. Well, that's not exactly what the National Cotton Council chairman said, but that's what he meant.

Greene, a cotton producer and ginner from Courtland, Ala., was making a case for U.S. trade negotiators remembering who they work for in testimony at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps and Narcotics on May 20.

To better understand where Greene was coming from, you have to remember that cotton industry members were left with a bitter taste in their mouths following the conclusion of the new textile agreement with Vietnam last month.

The agreement will allow Vietnam, which was only a minor player in the U.S. textile market two years ago, to ship $1.65 billion to $1.7 billion in textile and apparel products to the United States, access that American Textile Manufacturers Institute officials have called “the most generous ever granted.”

In his testimony, Greene said that free trade agreements, especially those in the Western Hemisphere, “need to be carefully constructed to insure that farmers, workers and companies in the United States and Central America are the beneficiaries of the agreement, not entities in third party countries.”

He didn't name names, but he noted that cotton consumption by U.S. textile mills has plummeted due to a flood of low cost cotton imports from Asia. The U.S. cotton industry believes increased trade in this hemisphere is one of the few options available to help combat that ever-rising tide of Asian apparel imports into the United States.

“The National Cotton Council supported NAFTA — and that agreement has been beneficial to our industry,” he said. “Likewise, regional preferential trading arrangements with the Caribbean Basin countries and the Andean countries can be beneficial if properly implemented and administered. The cotton industry is following with great interest the negotiations for a Central America Free Trade Agreement and is working to gain a better understanding of the economic impact it can expect from a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.”

Greene stressed that any regional agreement must:

  • Contain a consistent, workable rule-of-origin for cotton fiber and textile and apparel products that is no less restrictive than NAFTA rules of origin for these products.

  • Include provisions that would establish effective rules to deal with intellectual property rights.

  • Disallow preferences for products made with components from non-participating countries.

  • Preserve important aspects of trade preferences already established with the Caribbean and Andean countries.

Greene also renewed a NCC request that a separate negotiating group on textiles be established within the FTAA, and he said more needs to be done to insure that competitive financing tools are available to U.S. exporters of yarn and fabric, and USDA's export promotion program must be adequately funded.

That doesn't sound like too much to ask of the folks doing the negotiating for our side.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.