After a week in which much of the civilized world seemed to be dumping on the U.S. cotton industry, Council leaders said they were glad to see U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick shifting the focus back to the high tariffs many other countries put on textile and clothing imports.
"I am quite pleased that the USTR has recognized the important linkage between world fiber markets and the production and trade in textile and apparel products,” said National Cotton Council Chairman Robert W. Greene.
“The Council's testimony and statements on trade have continually highlighted the relationship between fiber markets and end-product production and trade. In fact, such negotiation may find that the market distortions in textile and apparel production and trade dwarf those associated with fiber production."
Greene said Council economists estimate that 84 percent of all textile and apparel products sold in the U.S. are now imported – amounting to the equivalent of more than 17 million bales.
While the United States has become the market of choice for most of the world's textile manufacturers, those same countries virtually lock out imports of textile and apparel products into their markets.
NCC economists said critics of U.S. cotton programs often overlook the exports of cotton textile and apparel from China that equate to almost 20 million cotton bales. Chinese exports are displacing textiles from other countries and are entering trade channels at lower and lower prices. The U.S. textile industry has absorbed huge losses and plant closures as imports, especially from Asia, disrupt the U.S. textile supply chain. “Addressing the policies and practices that have slashed U.S. jobs and undercut textile manufacturers should be an integral component of any WTO negotiation,” said Greene, a cotton ginner from Courtland, Ala.
"Negotiations in such an arena will necessarily be comprehensive and complex,” said Council President Mark Lange. “However, the opportunity to address the distortions engendered by industrial policies of many textile and apparel exporting countries is vital to obtaining a level playing field for trade."
Greene and Lange’s remarks came as U.S. negotiators continued to argue that cotton subsidies, which have been the target of a barrage of media criticism from within the United States and abroad leading up to the Cancun Ministerial Conference, were only one part of the issue.
Speaking to reporters in Cancun, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier said the United States has held more discussions with the four African countries – Benin, Burkia Faso, Chad and Mali – that have submitted a sectoral initiative calling for the elimination of all cotton subsidies within three years.
“It is a rather complicated situation,” said Allgeier. “Cotton, of course, is the beginning of a global manufacturing chain that stretches from fiber to textiles to clothing. And to find an effective response to the troubles in the cotton sector one needs to look at the whole range of issues in that value chain.
“So we are working with those countries to identify what we hope would be a comprehensive sectoral initiative to address and eliminate distortions in trade in cotton, but also in the associated products: man-made fibers and in clothing and apparel.”
“We have consistently pointed out that the U.S. market is relatively open for food and agricultural products,” said J.B. Penn, undersecretary of agriculture for farm and foreign agricultural services, who briefed reporters along with Allgeier, Undersecretary of State Alan Larson and Commerce Undersecretary Grant Aldonas.
“We have pointed out over and over that the average tariff on food and agriculture products in world trade is about 62 percent. The average tariff for such products coming into the United States is much lower, in the 12 to 15 percent range. We do have some products on which barriers are higher, but we have said everything is on the table and, if others are willing to liberalize, then we are quite willing to talk about our sensitive products as well.