The Cotton Project

Other Projects


Cotton Project I

Timeline: 2003 – 2008

Donors: Denmark (MFA), Sweden (MFA), Germany (BMZ), The Netherlands (MFA), Switzerland (SECO), UK (DFID), France (MFA)

Beneficiary: Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad, Mali


Cotton Project II

Timeline: 2009 – 2010

Donors: UK (DFID), Switzerland (SECO)

Beneficiary: Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad, Mali


Cotton Project III

Timeline: 2010 – 2013

Donor: Switzerland (SECO)

Beneficiary: Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad, Mali

As a final note, here is an assessment of the “Cotton Project” and ten years of collaboration between the C4 and IDEAS Centre

The project (in reality a series of phases) of support to the sectoral initiative for cotton proved to be a fascinating textbook case of support for negotiations via development aid.

First of all, it was not just any project: from the start, it was beset by doubts and uncertainty. Next, the question very quickly took on a dimension that left neither the proponents nor the opponents of the Initiative indifferent.

The point should be made that it was difficult in the beginning to convince the African countries to go ahead: not because they were not aware that the cotton subsidies of the rich countries were morally unjust and slightly questionable or that this question was vital for their cotton growers and for the development of their economies. Instead, they lacked faith in the system and were not convinced that they could obtain “justice” in this connection: they felt that the fight between David and Goliath was doomed to failure. Our efforts, and above all the mobilisation of civil society on their behalf, showed them that they were not alone in the fight and convinced them that it was necessary and possible to battle, even with limited means. Both the role of the Ambassador of Benin, Mr Samuel Amehou, in this period (and later as well), and the courage of Mr Blaise Compaoré, President of Burkina Faso, were crucial. The latter, officially representing the four cotton countries, did not hesitate to stake his credibility on the matter by travelling to Geneva in person to plead the cause of cotton growers with the WTO General Council. Later, especially in Hong Kong, the ministers of the C4 countries showed unparalleled commitment, determination and competence.

The second difficulty was securing financing. Donors had legitimate grounds for hesitating to fund this kind of project: (i) in their view, the chances of getting somewhere were minimal; (ii) they were a bit afraid to complicate already difficult negotiations by helping to introduce a new “thorn”; and (iii) they did not want to be perceived as taking a stand on such a delicate matter against major players. Switzerland played a key role in this first stage, and the agreement of several European countries to co-fund this support effort made it possible to show that this was not a position for or against any WTO member in particular, but rather an effort to defend a principle and to operationalise the Doha Development Agenda.

Cancún was both a major success and a failure for the cotton cause. The Ministerial helped show the entire world that the African countries’ fight for a fair system geared to development was legitimate and well-founded. However, the brutal failure of the Cancún exercise called this success into question. Initially, many WTO members saw cotton as one of the reasons for this failure, and no one wanted to weaken the multilateral system, even for a just cause. Subsequently, countries which refused to consider a change in the system attacked our collaboration with the C4 countries: (i) the C4 members were accused of being manipulated from outside; (ii) some WTO members lobbied donors, arguing that their support for this cause jeopardised the Doha Round; and (iii) representatives of donor countries which had openly backed the African cause were sidelined from the issue after Cancún, in the name of the higher interests of the countries concerned. It was thanks to the perseverance of the African countries, which some members had failed to factor in, that the Initiative was able to continue despite these attacks. Moreover, the conviction of senior development aid officials in the countries of the North that cotton was a difficult yet crucial question – if one claimed to promote a more inclusive and fairer multilateral trade system – greatly helped us in getting past such criticism.

The position of IDEAS Centre has always been extremely delicate and uncomfortable. Our support has constantly been subjected to close scrutiny. Certain NGOs have sometimes accused us of being in the service of the mighty when we sought compromises and/or of being antiglobalists by the donor countries and the countries granting subsidies when we fought tooth and nail to defend the position of the African cotton-growing countries. Fortunately, our relations with our African partners and friends were robust enough that these jolts did not imperil our collaboration.

The cotton support project was also a good example of capacity-building. Our role changed radically over the successive phases of this long project. Inevitably, in the beginning, we were very closely involved: only two C4 countries, Benin and Mali, had a small representative office here in Geneva, whereas Burkina Faso and Chad were represented from Brussels. The project helped to bring trade ministry officials responsible for cotton to the WTO: in all, four officials from each of the countries benefited from 3-6 months training in Geneva by following WTO activities in general and those relating to cotton in particular and dividing their time between their delegation and IDEAS Centre. The strengthening of the C4 missions in Geneva and the availability of staff well trained in WTO matters and negotiating techniques allowed donors to gradually reduce their support in recent years and let IDEAS Centre limit itself to analysing strategic questions and new directions without specific assistance for capacity-building or direct involvement in the negotiations.

For some years, the C4, whose motivation has never weakened, has been equipped to achieve its goals and fully capable of defending the cotton cause without any outside support, providing proof of the sustainability of this type of project.

In recent years, IDEAS’s role has refocused on strategic monitoring, information dissemination, analyses of ongoing reforms of the agricultural policies of the great powers, and the transposition of these analyses into proposals for action which could be submitted to the major players.

These ten years of collaboration have been a constant source of enrichment and challenge for IDEAS Centre. We take this opportunity to thank both our C4 partners and our donors for their faith in the project, and more generally in this venture.

“These ten years of collaboration have been a constant source of enrichment and challenge for IDEAS Centre.”

Links to our Cotton projects

Cotton 2010-2012
Cotton 2009
Cotton 2003-2008

Key documents related to the cotton projects

Link to the cotton newsletters

Fairtrade Foundation report on cotton subsidies written in collaboration with IDEAS Centre:

Final report on the public conference on cotton held on the 20th of July 2009 in Washington, DC:


Cotton and the LDCs in the WTO: Negotiations and Litigation, Two Sides of the Same Coin, Nicolas Imboden & Anne-Sophie Nivet-Claeys, in E. Duran (ed.) “The Doha Era and Beyond – The coming of Age of Developing countries in the Multilateral Trading System“, Cameron May-AITIC, 2008, pp. 121-132.