Summary: The world cotton industry is being slowly strangled by loss of market share to polyester. Campaigns of demonization contribute to this strangulation. As one example, the C&A Foundation Annual Report 2014 uses evocative language, exaggeration, and repetition of allegations years out of date to demonize, rather than inform, in the service of enhancing the C&A brand. The report is unremarkable, except that it is recent, and serves as an example of efforts by NGO’s, retailers and environmentalists to build sales and enhance careers, while undermining the livelihoods of tens of millions of cotton households. Only by volubly challenging those who demonize, with public, specific, fact-based rebuttals, will the cotton industry be able to make demonization expensive and thus shift the structure of incentives that currently makes demonization profitable.
There is an adage: “Be careful for what you wish; you may get it.”
The world cotton industry is experiencing price stability rarely seen, and while some segments may appreciate the tranquility, the industry as a whole will suffer. This may seem counter intuitive as most government officials and many market participants decry price volatility. However, the current stability in prices is not the result of a natural balance between cotton supply and demand. Rather, the current situation results from management of reserve stocks by the governments of China and India.
Those who wished for stable prices have them now. For many, stable cotton prices will make management decisions much easier. There will be no need to hedge sales or purchases. Farmers will plant, ginners will buy, merchants will market, and spinners will sell, each knowing with greater certainty what their returns will be. However, a market situation that seems to be an advantage for individual participants will prove to be a disadvantage for the industry as a whole. Nevertheless, whether desirable or not, stable prices are likely to characterize the cotton market for several years to come.
The 2014 farm bill (Agricultural Act of 2014) fundamentally reduced the level of agricultural subsidies for all the program crops, and the bill changed the way that subsides are calculated by eliminating the Direct Payments, Countercyclical Payments, and Average Crop Revenue Election Payments and substituting revenue insurance programs, including the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) for upland cotton—almost all cotton in the world is classified as upland.
Farm bills are products of diverse influences, including policy objectives, political pressures and budget limitations. The 2014 farm bill was uniquely influenced by an additional factor, the legal ramifications of the Brazil cotton case in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In WTO parlance, upland cotton was treated “specifically” and “ambitiously,” within the 2014 farm bill, and such treatment would never have happened but for the legal pressure brought by Brazil under the Dispute Settlement Mechanism within the World Trade Organization (WTO), augmented by the force of moral suasion brought by African countries and their supporters within the Talks on Agriculture in the Doha Development Agenda (the Doha Round).
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