The National Cotton Council will spend much of 2004 defending the farm bill against attacks from at home and abroad and trying to bolster trade agreements to prevent more damage to the U.S. textile industry.

The latter will include carrying out a newly passed NCC resolution that urges Congress to delay ratifying the new Central American Free Trade Agreement until its textile provisions can be thoroughly reviewed and significantly improved, NCC Chairman Bobby Greene said.

“The NCC will continue to work with all agriculture and allied organizations to effectively defend commodity programs and other key farm law provisions. We will build and maintain coalitions that remind Congress the current farm law is balanced in its approach to production, conservation and nutrition program funding.”

Speaking at the Council's annual meeting in New Orleans today, Greene noted that growing budget deficits will generate pressure for change in 2004, including proposals to save money by modifying programs or reducing benefits. (Earlier, President Bush's proposed Fiscal Year 2005 budget said the FY2004 deficit could reach $521 billion.)

“Others in Congress will work to cut funds from production agriculture in favor of conservation, nutrition or other more politically attractive programs,” he said. “The cotton industry is very fortunate to have members of Congress who understand our industry and are willing to address key issues.

“But we must be prepared to adapt to change with several pending retirements in the Senate and re-districting issues in the House.”

Greene, a Courtland, Ala., ginner who will chair the NCC's Executive Committee in 2004, told delegates that the NCC's trade agenda stands is no less important than farm policy.

He listed these priorities in the trade arena:

  1. Continuing discussions with the U.S. Trade Representative's office to ensure that World Trade Organization negotiations on the U.S. cotton program will be conducted in the context of the overall agricultural negotiations, while reiterating concerns about the elimination of U.S. textile tariffs.

  2. Carrying out the newly-approved NCC resolution that urges Congress to defer consideration of a Central American Free Trade Agreement until such time as the textile provisions are thoroughly reviewed and significantly improved.

  3. Working to ensure that the extraordinary damage caused by market disruptions generated by China is addressed by the administration and Congress.

  4. Studying each new bilateral trade initiative proposal carefully to ensure it will benefit the U.S. cotton industry and not non-signatory third countries.

  5. Consulting further with USDA and the USTR to ensure that every effort is made to successfully defend the U.S. cotton program against Brazil's WTO challenge.

Among other challenges the NCC will focus on in 2004 are: Helping to defend legal challenges to the Cotton Research and Promotion Program; providing solid support and leadership to Cotton Council International — given that 65 percent or more of U.S. cotton fiber and more than 4 million bale equivalents of additional cotton yarn and fabric are now moving through export channels; strengthening industry partnerships including alliances with The Cotton Foundation's agribusiness members who help underwrite many NCC initiatives; and increasing industry leaders' commitment to the Committee for the Advancement of Cotton (CAC).

“Today's political environment demands that we keep CAC funded to ensure access for cotton's voice,” Greene said. “Along with our CAC support, I encourage each of you to be politically active and know your senators and representatives and their aides. Our very livelihood depends on it.”

Prior to outlining upcoming challenges, Greene reviewed key NCC actions in 2003, including 1) defending the farm bill throughout the budget debate and appropriations process and from foreign competitors through WTO challenges, 2) garnering strong industry wide support for three trade-related China initiatives and 3) obtaining strong financial backing for CCI and The Cotton Foundation.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com