May 22, 2006

In Mali village, Bono talks cotton trade

By Lesley Wroughton

DAFARA VILLAGE, Mali (Reuters) - In this village about a
two-hour drive from the capital Bamako, rock star Bono meets
local chiefs and elders and says American cotton traded on the
international market has an unfair advantage over Mali's.

"There are cotton farmers in America who need to meet you,"
says the Irish rocker and activist. "This is my biggest desire
because I think they will understand you better because I think
American cotton farmers would respect how you work the land so
well with little water."

The 90-year-old chief Julien Traore, sitting opposite the
rock star under a mango tree surrounded by villagers and
children, nods and encourages Bono to keep talking.

"The reason you don't get more for your cotton is because
world trade talks, the people who are sitting at the table, do
not respect your situation," Bono continues. "We will try to
represent you in the trade talks where they won't let you sit."

Mali is one of Africa's five big cotton producers next to
Chad, Benin, Burkina Faso and Senegal that are demanding the
United States dramatically cuts the subsidies it pays its

In 2004-5 U.S. producers received about $4.2 billion in
federal subsidies, money that impoverished West African nations
say depresses world prices and ruins their economies.

The West African producers have sought for several years to
give cotton special status in the World Trade Organization
talks, currently stalled over broader farm issues.

Bono, on a six-nation African tour to see how Africa is
trying to transform itself amid promises by the West of
increased aid, is in Mali specifically to find out how low
cotton prices are directly affecting farmers.

"I think Americans would like things to be more fair. We
would like to have it more fair," he says, then asks Chief
Traore: "What do you think of America?"

"We think Americans are white men but they are still
farmers," responds the chief.

In his campaigning for Africa, Bono has lobbied leaders
from the largest industrialized economies for better access for
Africa to the large U.S. and European markets.

On his tour, Bono has argued that the only way Africa can
escape the cycle of poverty is through increased trade.

In Mali, Bono also visited a state-owned cotton ginnery
where cotton is washed and bundled for export, mainly to Asia.

Issa Djire, an agronomist and senior official at the
ginnery, explains that 97 percent of Mali's cotton is exported,
while the remaining three percent is processed locally and
turned into yarn and thread at local factories.

Djire stresses that Mali's cotton is among the highest
quality in the world and what it needs is foreign investment.