WTO's Hong Kong Ministerial Meetings
Put Focus on Agriculture and Cotton Issues

Friday,December 16, 2005                        By Shawn Wade

      Producershave been concerned for months that the Bush Administration's trade team, ledby U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, might be headed to Hong Kong ready tosacrifice the U.S. cotton program to appease our international critics.

      Afterthe opening rounds of the WTO ministerial meeting were conducted earlier thisweek, some of those fears may begin to recede thanks to some strong statementsby the U.S. Trade Ambassador.

      Unfortunately,much of the good will that was created by those words could be tempered by aseemingly one-sided offer to allow African cotton into the U.S duty and quotafree.

      Thequestion to ask may be what is the U.S. really offering these countries. Themajority of African Lesser Developed Countries (LDC) already have at least somelevel of duty-free/quota-free access for cotton products through the AfricanGrowth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

      Becauseof AGOA, it seems that the primary benefit to African LDC's from the U.S. offerwould be the world's other major cotton purchasers, namely China and India,following the U.S. lead and opening their own markets to West African cotton.How those countries will react to the U.S. proposal is unknown.

      Thereis simply no way to know how the U.S. proposal will eventually play out insidethe much bigger chess game of the WTO negotiation process. To guess at itsimpact now would amount to little more than useless speculation.

      Despiteconcern over the African duty-free/quota-free offer, Ambassador Portman hasalso gotten high marks from U.S. cotton industry observers present in HongKong.

      Especiallyheartening to the U.S. contingent were Ambassador Portman's comments during theopening cotton/banana plenary meeting at which he and USDA Secretary MikeJohanns were present.

      Speaking last, Portman provided a strongly worded statement afterrepresentatives from African, European Union, Brazil and other countries hadmade comments that mostly focused on the moral aspects of the cotton issue andignored economic factors affecting the situation completely.

      Portman'sresponse to these arguments rebutted the concept of separating cotton from theoverall agricultural negotiation process. Portman said before cotton issues canbe resolved the broader scope of agriculture issues should be addressed.

      Portmanpointed out that several economic studies, including one from the InternationalMonetary Fund, show that the complete elimination of U.S. cotton programs wouldonly affect a 2 percent change in world cotton prices.

      TheU.S. cotton industry has repeatedly noted that the IMF study and studies fromother respected international organizations confirm that ending U.S. cottonsubsidies will not significantly change the outlook for African cotton farmers.

      TheNational Cotton Council reiterated this point in a letter to Ambassador Portmanthanking him for his statements at the cotton plenary meeting.

      TheNCC noted that his comments were appropriate and that the industry appreciatedhis strong commitment to achieve a comprehensive agreement that benefits amajority of farmers and to deflect efforts seeking a separate resolution forcotton.

      TheNCC also praised Ambassador Portman's acknowledgement that the African problemis bigger than the subsidy issue and that any effort to address cotton thatignores the other issues does not provide African cotton farmers therepresentation they need.


Module Covers: Extra Care Keeps Cotton Safe
& Allows Gins To Provide Quality Service

Friday,December 16, 2005                        By Shawn Wade

      Inthe field, the 2005 crop has impressed many a West Texas traveler over the pastfew months. Now that the majority of this year's field activity is complete, thefocus for crop watchers will be tracking how quickly the tens of thousands ofmodules waiting to be processed move from field to gin yard.

      Modulestorage has been the standard across the Texas High Plains for more than twentyyears and does an outstanding job of protecting cotton quality during what canbe a lengthy wait for ginning.

      Earlierthis season, Plains Cotton Growers joined forces with the Texas IndependentGinners Association to remind producers how important the creation of uniformsize modules was to keeping ginning costs down and to increasing the efficiencyof a gin transporting modules from the field.

      Acritical component of a well-formed modules ability to provide a high level ofprotection is the module tarp. Typically gins provide tarps for their producercustomers and it is up to the producer to make sure that each one is properlyinstalled and ultimately returned to the gin to be reused.

      AsHigh Plains ginners push past the halfway point of the ginning season, keepingtrack of module tarps can be a significant challenge.

      Thisyear's frequent high wind events have multiplied this challenge even more.Growers are encouraged to take the time to ensure that module covers areproperly installed and to adjust loose or improperly fitted covers. This willensure that they are able to perform as designed and have a reduced risk ofloss or damage during a high wind event or during transport from field to gin.

      Modulecovers are a significant investment for gins and taking the time to make surethey are properly installed can also keep ginning costs from being adverselyimpacted by reducing the number that have to be replaced because of loss ordamage.