West, Central African Cotton Complaint Would Be A First At WTO

By Agence France-Presse A planned complaint by western and central African countries over cotton would mark a first at the WTO, an expert said June 27, although WTO officials have yet to be notified of the dispute. "We've received nothing yet," a World Trade Organization official said. If the case comes before the WTO, it would mark the first time the least developed countries (LDCs) have been involved in a dispute under the global body's settlement procedure, said the WTO legal expert in trade affairs. Agriculture ministers of western and central African countries said, at the end of a two-day meeting in Abidjan on June 26, that they would begin the process for presenting a complaint at the WTO's dispute settlement body. They complain that while the cotton produced in Africa is competitively priced, it suffers because other cotton-producing countries pay their producers substantial subsidies. They targeted in particular the United States and the European Union. Frieder Roessler, executive director of the Geneva-based Advisory Centre on WTO Law, said that if the case ended up before WTO experts, it would be a first for least developed countries. "There's never been a case brought [on by], or brought against LDCs so far," Roessler said. The centre, which formally opened last July, provides mostly legal advice to developing and least developed countries for procedures at the dispute settlement body. He pointed out that LDCs may have benefited indirectly from the rulings in other disputes but it was rare for a measure to affect only the least developed countries. In addition, these nations face a lack of information and funds, he said. "I think it would set a good example. It's a very good idea for LDCs to proceed jointly," said Roessler, a former director of legal affairs at the WTO's predecessor, the GATT, during the 1986-93 Uruguay Round of trade talks. West Africa's cotton sector has been in crisis due to a fall in global prices and big government subsidies that have helped U.S., European, Australian and Chinese producers. Western and central African cotton comprised 15% of world trade in the product in 2001-2002, which ranks the region in third place among world cotton exporters after the U.S. and Uzbekistan. Among the 20 African countries supporting the Abidjan memorandum were Mali, Niger, Sierra Leone and Senegal. Many of the 20 are also among the 144 members of the Geneva-based WTO. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2002

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