The insistence by WTO Director General Pascal Lamy that U.S. cotton subsidies have driven cotton producers around the world to poverty and despair ignores one very powerful notion — without the U.S. cotton industry, there wouldn’t be a strong world market for cotton in the first place.

Cotton Council International President Michael Adams said it as succinctly as possible speaking at the National Cotton Council’s mid-year board meeting. “One hears a lot lately about how the U.S. cotton program has been depressing prices and damaging producers in places like West Africa, Brazil and India. In the WTO negotiations, the U.S. cotton program is being held up as the poster child of farm supports.

“But you do not hear anything about how the U.S. programs have generated added consumer demand at home and abroad for much more cotton than our programs may have supported. The International Cotton Advisory Committee estimates that U.S. cotton promotion has generated from 10 million to 12 million bales of added demand per year. That’s equivalent to the combined annual cotton production of all West African countries and Brazil, our worst critics.”

Adams went on to ask “what other country has done as much to promote cotton. I can’t think of a single one right off hand, so it would seem to me that any attempt to run the U.S. cotton industry aground would be mighty shortsighted. In fact, the WTO ought to be thinking of what they can do to keep U.S. cotton going.

“I haven’t even mentioned the impact of U.S. technologies, like Bt cotton, on foreign production. The technology has eliminated many of the disastrous crop years in poor countries, when worms ate everything in sight — and has contributed to supply, I might add. These technologies were borne of a strong, healthy, forward-looking, U.S. cotton industry, with modern organizations, government agencies and associations eager to develop solutions.

Adams concluded, “I think it’s time that the WTO negotiators, the press and critics of the U.S. cotton industry pay more attention to the positives — the time, energy and money we’ve spent generating positive consumer demand in this country and around the world.

“The United States has more than shouldered its responsibilities in building consumer demand so that stocks did not become burdensome. We will continue to shoulder that burden, but we call on other countries to step up to the plate and begin to do their parts as well.”

Adams pointed out that some cotton-producing countries, such as India, are starting to get the picture. It’s time the rest of the world, including the crafters of WTO policy, open their eyes to the fact that supply is only half the price equation. Without demand created by the U.S. cotton industry, cotton has nowhere to go. Now that’s a problem.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com