USTR - U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick Press Availability after visit to FITINA thread factory in Mali
Office of the United States Trade Representative


U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick Press Availability after visit to FITINA thread factory in Mali
Bamako, Mali 12/09/2004

USTR Zoellick: Thank you all for joining us today. I just arrived in Mali. The Ministers invited me to come see about the cotton processes and development in your country. So one of the key purposes of my visit is to listen and learn about what’s going on in your country. And I was particularly interested in having a chance to see this operation. Because it’s an excellent example of how to take the cotton from Mali, add the value with the manufacturing process, in the process employing about 156 people, men and women. Then the thread is sent to a number of countries including Mauritius, where it is made into clothing, which is then exported to the United States under the AGOA program. So I really have to complement the entrepreneurs who started this idea, and the manufacturers who run the operation. And I would encourage if they think there is more potential both in their operation and maybe even with some others.

And then I am going from this meeting to a meeting with a number of the ministers to talk both about trade issues, but also development and aid issues. Because as you may know, Mali is a participant in a new aid program that President Bush initiated, called the Millennium Challenge Account. The head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation visited Mali recently, and as the trade minister of the United States, I serve on the board of that Corporation. Because we are looking for ways that trade and aid can be interconnected. So, for example, Mali is developing a proposal that can help with the airport and some of the infrastructure to help businesses like this one.

And I just also want to thank the executives for being so kind as to share some of their time with us today, and the Ministers of Agriculture, and Commerce, and Mining for greeting me here. And the President for being gracious to spend some time with me later. Merci bien.

Journalist: Do you think that the slide of the dollar will have an impact on exports of cotton?

USTR Zoellick: It depends on the country. And it depends on their currency. But what is interesting about this operation is much of the thread is used to make apparel in Mauritius. And under the AGOA Act there is a lower tariff for apparel from Mauritius than from countries like China, so it would help Africa compete and help this plant compete. So we can’t control currencies, but we can give an advantage for African products with lower tariffs. And one of the other topics that we discussed is perhaps using some of the aid monies to improve the infrastructure so as to lower the cost and time of transportation. Because it’s becoming clear in the fashion and apparel business that competition is not only based on cost, but the quickness of turnaround in the market with fashion. So the pieces have to fit together. But that’s why it’s nice for me to come see this myself, because then I can learn from people here.

Journalist: Would subsidies given to U.S. cotton farmers disturb the cotton market, like supporting U.S. cotton cultivation as opposed to cotton cultivation in poor countries like Mali?

USTR Zoellick: That’s a big subject of debate. What you see is the price of cotton goes up and down regardless of the subsidies. But one of the key points that I’ll be discussing with your ministers is that we are willing to substantially reduce those subsides as part of the global trade negotiation. But also we can work together with Mali and other West African countries by reducing barriers in third countries to our cotton. Because if much of the cotton apparel market is in China or India or Pakistan, and they have very high tariffs like 50 or 100 percent, we can work together to try to lower those tariffs. That will help your cotton producers. That will help our cotton producers. And it will make our cotton producers more willing to give up the subsidies that you talk about.

And one last point on this. It’s one reason that I have come. Because a number of your ministers visited the United States, and I saw them in July of this year, and we know how important cotton is to this country and to some of your neighbors. And I said that even though there are a number of countries that are a part of this system, I wanted to come and see this with my own eyes to show that we wanted to work together.

Thank you.

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