West Africans Lobby Congress on Agriculture Subsidies

D.C.’s Politico newspaper, which does a good job of covering lobbying, has an interesting story about three West African clergymen lobbying the U.S. Congress to reduce subsidies to American farmers, which hurt African farmers by depressing prices:

In a meeting with Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), they got lucky. Domenici doesn’t speak French, and the African bishops don’t speak English. But Bishop Jean-Noel Diouf of Tambacounda, Senegal, had learned Italian as a student in Rome. He took the opportunity to make the African case to the Italian-American lawmaker in that language.

The West African clergymen, who came to Washington under the auspices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, were primarily concerned about cotton subsidies, which they said encourage overproduction by American farmers, thus depressing prices for their region’s most vital commercial crop.

The bishops are part of an unusual coalition of interest groups seeking to curb subsidies to growers, which ranges from the foreign farming sector to school lunch advocates to the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

For more on the West African cotton market, see this recent WPR commentary piece by John Liebhardt, who is based in Burkina Faso and covers the country’s “cotton belt.” Liebhardt reported that a recent WTO ruling may force the United States to further cut back on crop subsidies. But that alone won’t solve all of West African farmers’ problems:

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — Leaders of West African nations could barely contain their glee in mid-October when the World Trade Organization announced it had upheld a previous ruling declaring the United States has not done enough to cut back its subsidies to cotton farmers. The ruling stems from Brazil’s 2002 complaint to the WTO that U.S. farm supports depress world prices and create undue harm to Brazilian cotton farmers.

. . .

In the short term, expectations are that cotton will have a good seasonnext year. With falling world production, increasing demand and moreU.S. farmers moving to corn because of ethanol-friendly tax breaks,prices are already expected to increase. Add in the possibility ofdiminishing U.S. subsidies, and African cotton farmers must bewondering if it all sounds too good to be true. The problem is: It verywell may be. . . .

Read on for
Liebhardt’s analysis of the inefficiencies of the West African cotton market and what can be done about it.

UPDATE: John Liebhardt emailed the following from Ouagadougou:

Asst. Sec. of State John Negroponte was in Ouagadougou (and four other West African capitals) Tuesday, and he announced this:

“We have worked with certain parties, notably the farmers, to see how to arrange contacts with American operators to place Burkinabe cotton on the American market — particularly the very high quality cotton that you produce here.”

And, more importantly, this:

“In the framework of the Doha Round negotiations, we have clearly indicated that we are ready to reduce our farms subsidies on the condition that our European Union partners can equally make the same gesture so we can work together in this direction.”

I believe that this is the first U.S. “response” since the October WTO decision.