conomic conditions and a continuing flood of textile imports, coupled with a range of weather problems in much of the Cotton Belt in 2002, continued a profit-squeeze on the U.S. cotton industry.
Passage of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 provided a much-needed stabilizing force for agriculture and the rural economy. The cotton program was strengthened, reflecting the priorities established by National Cotton Council (NCC) leadership as early as 1999 and persistently conveyed to lawmakers throughout the ensuing policy-making process.
The NCC has been just as diligent in defending the new farm law from critics, ranging from national newspapers to lawmakers, and particularly against proponents of more severe payment limits. The 16 organizations of a Commodity Roundtable convened by NCC joined in defense of the new law and expressed their firm opposition to any changes.
Trade issues have become as important to our industry’s economic health as farm policy.
U.S. farmers soon will be going very nearly head-to-head with their foreign counterparts if U.S. negotiators win approval of their agricultural proposal in the new round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations. Liberalized trade means increasing reliance on exports for the U.S. cotton industry and a further opening of the U.S. market to foreign products.
Assuming current cotton policy is not unilaterally dismantled through trade agreements, budget reductions or philosophical tinkering, the U.S. cotton industry appears to be in a position to capture a healthy share of the raw cotton export market. However, crucially important program provisions continue to face challenges on all these fronts, and the NCC must be vigilant to avoid crippling program amendments.
Inequitable textile trade agreements have inflicted major losses on the U.S. textile industry, reducing mill use from more than 11 million bales in 1997 to less than 8 million in 2002. The U.S. market was further opened last year with passage of an omnibus trade bill that not only awarded Trade Promotion Authority to President Bush, but expanded textile quotas, or opened new ones, for the Caribbean, Andean and African regions. The Administration has announced that it will aggressively pursue new agreements in the months ahead, not only through the completion of a new WTO agreement, but also a number of bilateral and regional agreements as well.
As widely predicted, China has been slow to open its market in keeping with its WTO accession agreement. China is taking advantage of its WTO membership to increase its textile exports to the U.S. substantially while opening its own market to raw cotton imports in such a restrictive way as to inhibit U.S. export sales. The NCC has asked the Administration to pursue consultations on this matter with Chinese officials under provisions of the WTO and to request that a dispute settlement panel be convened if necessary.
Meanwhile, the NCC is working with Administration officials to defend the U.S. cotton program against unjustified charges by Brazil that it is not WTO compliant and has adversely affected Brazilian growers.
On a more positive note, Cotton Council International’s (CCI) aggressive trade servicing, promotion and market development efforts are escalating throughout the world. Through its COTTON USA Advantage Program, a closer partnership with Cotton Incorporated and an increase in foreign market development funding by USDA, CCI is strongly positioned to continue creating, expanding and maintaining long-term export markets for U.S. raw cotton and cotton products.
Quality improvement also remained on the front burner this past year. Our industry cannot afford to take fiber quality for granted or assume that technological advances will deliver both production improvements and quality enhancements. The challenge to improve fiber production in the field while encouraging breeding, production, processing and handling methods that enhance fiber quality will remain at the forefront of NCC interests. Quality improvement is an ongoing process that seeks a balance involving a fiber that best serves the manufacturing process and provides a reasonable economic return to the production sector.
Strengthening The Cotton Foundation’s partnership with the NCC by focusing the resources of both organizations on the industry’s highest priorities was one of several Board-approved recommendations made by the Study Committee on the Future Role of the NCC. Chaired by Bob McLendon and comprised of NCC officers and a number of past chairmen, the Committee conducted a thorough review of the NCC's mission, structure, activities and expenditures. The panel played a vital role in keeping the NCC financially strong by identifying ways to trimming operational costs without compromising important NCC programs. The budget adjustments and job consolidations, together with a record level of membership support, positions the NCC to provide needed services for the industry on a fiscally sound basis for a number of years to come.
Kenneth B. Hood, 2002 Chairman
Gaylon B. Booker, 2002 President and CEO