The National Cotton Council spent much of 2008 providing Congress with information relevant to developing a workable farm bill and trying to stave off bad trade policies. In 2009, focus shifts to protecting funding for commodity programs and continuing to work with U.S. trade negotiators to assure a balance between market access and reduced domestic support.

“Farm program defense and trade issues were our primary focus during 2008,” said Larry McClendon, chairman of the National Cotton Council during opening remarks at the 2009 Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.

McClendon reported on 2008 Council activities and offered insight into expected activities for this year.

He said some farm program rules, including payment limitations and eligibility, direct and counter-cyclical payments and the new Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program “were just recently released. The Council has already begun the process of developing extensive comments on these rules.”

He said when Doha negotiations resume, possibly later this year, the Council will continue to provide negotiators with information on how concessions will affect the U.S. cotton industry. In particular, the Council objects to proposals made last year by the WTO director that would reduce U.S. agricultural support but allow “loopholes in market access provisions for several emerging countries, including China and India.”

The Council and other agricultural groups have “pressed for increased market access to offset the more stringent disciplines on agricultureís safety net,” McClendon said.

When Doha negotiations resume, he said, the WTO director's proposal should not be “the starting point for the talks. We must press for balance between reductions in domestic support and increased market access. Failure to achieve the necessary balance could result in an agreement that would require U.S. agriculture to forego a large portion of commodity programs with very little — and possibly nothing — in return.”

McClendon said the Council will be closely involved as the Brazil cotton case concludes in 2009. The Council was disappointed that the WTO Appellate Body upheld most of the Compliance Panelís earlier report against U.S. programs.

“As Brazil's challenge has moved to the punitive stage where an arbitration panel will determine the appropriate level of damages they may seek, the Council has remained closely involved in these debates as to which level, if any, of damages is appropriate.”

He said the Council has also worked to address industry concerns “with the failure of the commodity futures markets to serve their primary functions as price discovery and risk management.”

He said the Council supported HR 6604, the Commodity Markets Transparency and Accountability Act of 2008.

Council activities also include regulatory issues with the goal of ensuring that the “U.S. cotton industry (is) not burdened with rules or denied access to products that would compromise its ability to compete in the world marketplace.”

Issues included:

  • Support for federal cost share funding for the Boll Weevil and Pink Bollworm Eradication Programs and to maintain funding for other federal research programs.

  • Maintaining efforts with registrants, USDA and EPA to ensure a wide range of conventional crop protection products for producers.

  • Active participation in agriculture coalitions, which work in support of reasonable regulations for conventional and biotechnology products.

A new initiative, Vision 21, initiated this year with a grant from Monsanto, will “address many of the U.S. cotton industry's future challenges and opportunities. The program will tap resources of the Council, Cotton Incorporated and Cotton Council International and will focus on accumulating information about cotton's fastest growing market, Asia; strengthen cotton's sustainability message; and discover ways to improve flow/shipping.

“There are many challenges before us. Research, education and technology transfer continue to be critically important. The Council will continue its longstanding commitment of resources for technology development and transfer and bringing resolution to technology-based priorities.”