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Changing the WTO Narrative

From Cotton Grower Magazine – March 2015

I’ll be honest with you. Most of the proceedings at the National Cotton Council Annual Meeting are of little use to ag journalists.

This is not to say that the work the Council accomplishes there is unimportant. In fact, it is of great consequence to the future of the cotton industry. It’s just that the weekend is not crafted to be optimal for ag media. (Nor should it be, of course.)

Officers are elected largely behind closed doors. Strategy is crafted largely behind closed doors. Policy is adopted, you guessed it, largely behind closed doors. By the time we arrive at the general sessions at the end of the weekend, the voting that takes place is largely a formality. And, aside from the handing out of awards – which is always a wonderful moment – the speeches are scripted and often unremarkable.

There is one exception, though. The outgoing NCC Chairman has a chance to reflect on the happenings during the previous year, and this often results in a brief unguarded glimpse into what he or she is really thinking – a moment of “Excuse me while I get this off my chest.”

Never one to mince words, Wally Darneille did not disappoint during his remarks at this year’s event. After presiding over a year in which American cotton was beset by policy challenges from Brazil, Turkey, Peru and China, Wallace took to the podium to express exasperation at current global conditions.

“For years the industry remained silent on Chinese policy, because the Chinese were our largest customer while its government was rebuilding its stocks,” Darneille said.

American sentiments are changing, however, due to policy shifts in China that support Chinese farmers at almost twice the world price according to Darneille.

“The industry has had something of a change of heart,” he said. “We realized that if the cotton industry does not speak in a united voice to object to the way other countries flaunt WTO rules while it seems that we alone pay attention to those rules in our agricultural policies, then those other countries’ policies threaten our very existence.”

Darneille mentioned a recent NCC envoy that traveled to Geneva to address the WTO and “shift the global discussion from simply criticizing U.S. policies to looking realistically at the policies of other countries like China, India and Brazil.”

While it’s only a start, it was nice to hear that the Council is going on the offensive. American cotton has been a favorite target of the WTO for long enough. It’s time for the WTO to demand that each of its member-states practice what they preach when it comes to cotton policy.

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