A December meeting aimed at furthering cooperative ties between the United States and the West African countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali has been postponed, USDA officials announced.

USDA said the conference of USDA and National Cotton Council officials with the ministers of these West African countries that was scheduled in Bamako, Mali, has been pushed back in order to prepare advance copies of information and permit increased participation.

In a letter to the NCC, Ellen Terpstra, USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service administrator, said, “With your help we have been seeking broadened linkages between these countries and our American cotton sector while helping to access development opportunities for their small-scale farmers.”

USDA and the NCC have been planning the conference as a follow-up to earlier efforts to establish cooperative ties with these countries.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have published articles attempting to lay the impoverishment of cotton farmers in the four countries at the feet of the U.S. cotton program.

National Cotton Council leaders have strenuously denied those claims, which appear to be part of a public relations campaign implemented by OxFam International, a London-based charity organization. But NCC officials have also traveled to Africa, attempting to find ways to improve conditions in the African cotton growing regions.

In October, a technical team of government and cotton industry advisors toured several of these countries to assess needs and identify both short and long-term opportunities for cooperative efforts and assistance.

The tour was preceded by a ministerial conference in Burkina Faso, June 20-24, attended by NCC Chairman Woody Anderson. Also, a number of ambassadors and ministers from the West African countries participated in U.S. cotton industry orientation sessions and a U.S. Cotton Belt tour July 19-26.

At their upcoming conference in Mali, USDA and NCC officials will present several near term projects intended as a first step to address the opportunities identified earlier by the technical team.

“The U.S. cotton industry looks forward to this next step of direct communications with our West African counterparts to determine opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperative programs,” Anderson said. “We had hoped to get this accomplished this month, but we are pleased that the ministers are committed to participating in this conference at a later date.”

USDA Undersecretary J.B. Penn plans to head the upcoming U.S. delegation. NCC American Cotton Producers Chairman John Pucheu of Tranquillity, Calif., will represent the U.S. cotton industry.

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