The National Cotton Council says the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement would be a plus for all segments of the U.S. cotton industry and the Mid-South region in particular.

In Mississippi, for example, passage of DR-CAFTA would protect a market whose purchases of U.S. cotton and cotton products translate into $70 million in annual farmgate revenue for cotton farmers and $295 million in business revenue for Mississippi's economy.

Council economists say that market, comprised of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, imports 13 percent of the U.S. cotton crop or 2.7 million U.S. bales. That is a combination of 200,000 bales of raw cotton and 2.5 million bale equivalents purchased as yarn and fabric manufactured by the U.S. textile industry.

Murray McClintock, a cotton ginner from Tunica, Miss., said DR-CAFTA would help stabilize the U.S. textile industry, which is still the largest, single customer for U.S. cotton.

“CAFTA will provide the U.S. cotton and textile industries with the best means of competing with textile products from China and other Asian countries,” McClintock said. “I know that if our nation loses its capacity to spin U.S. farmers' cotton into yarn and fabric, we'll be in bad shape.”

The latest U.S. Census of Agriculture shows that the 1,596 cotton farms in Mississippi produce an average 2.14 million bales with a farmgate value estimated at roughly $540 million. Cotton in Mississippi also supports 30,000 jobs and generates more than $2 billion in business revenue.

Shane Stephens, vice president of the warehouse division of Staplcotn Cooperative, headquartered in Greenwood, Miss., said, “U.S. raw cotton already has a 90 percent market penetration in the DR-CAFTA countries, and any growth in those countries' textile mill use should translate into additional U.S. raw cotton exports to that region.”