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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Brazil’s WTO Case Against the U.S. Cotton Program

Randy Schnepf
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

The so-called “Brazil cotton case” is a long-running World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement case (DS267) initiated by Brazil—a major cotton export competitor—in 2002 against specific provisions of the U.S. cotton program. In September 2004, a WTO dispute settlement panel found that certain U.S. agricultural support payments and guarantees—including (1) payments to cotton producers under the marketing loan and counter-cyclical programs, and (2) export credit guarantees under the GSM-102 program—were inconsistent with WTO commitments. In 2005, the United States made several changes to both its cotton and GSM-102 programs in an attempt to bring them into compliance with WTO recommendations. However, Brazil argued that the U.S. response was inadequate. A WTO compliance panel ruled in favor of Brazil’s non-compliance charge against the United States in December 2007, and the ruling was upheld on appeal in June 2008.

In August 2009, a WTO arbitration panel—assigned to determine the appropriate level of retaliation—announced that Brazil’s trade countermeasures against U.S. goods and services could include two components: (1) a fixed amount of $147.3 million in response to U.S. cotton program payments, and (2) a variable amount based on U.S. GSM-102 program spending. In response to Brazil’s argument that insufficient trade in goods occurred between the two countries, the arbitrators also ruled that Brazil would be entitled to cross-retaliation if the overall retaliation amount exceeded a formula-based variable annual threshold. Cross-retaliation involves countermeasures in sectors outside of the trade in goods, most notably in the area of U.S. copyrights and patents. Based on the arbitrators’ formulas, using 2008 data, Brazil announced in December 2009 that it would impose trade retaliation starting on April 6, 2010, against up to $829.3 million in U.S. goods, including $268.3 million in eligible cross-retaliatory countermeasures.

The threat of sanctions led to intense negotiations between Brazil and the United States to find a mutual agreement and avoid the trade retaliation. In April 2010, the two parties reached a preliminary memorandum of understanding (MOU) spelling out certain actions which, if undertaken by the United States, would lead to suspension of Brazil’s threatened retaliation.

On June 17, 2010, U.S. and Brazilian trade negotiators concluded the Framework for a Mutually Agreed Solution to the Cotton Dispute in the WTO (WT/DS267). The framework agreement— which lays out a number of “steps and discussions”—represents a path forward toward the ultimate goal of reaching a negotiated solution to the dispute, while avoiding WTO-sanctioned trade retaliation by Brazil against U.S. goods and services. As a result, Brazil has suspended trade retaliation pending U.S. compliance with the framework agreement measures. Key aspects of the framework agreement include (1) payment by the United States of a $147.3 million annual fund to a newly created “Brazilian Cotton Institute” to provide technical assistance and capacitybuilding for Brazil’s cotton sector, (2) quarterly discussions on potential limits of trade-distorting U.S. cotton subsidies (recognizing that actual changes will not occur prior to the 2012 farm bill), and (3) near-term modifications to the operation of the GSM-102 program coupled with a semiannual review of whether U.S. GSM-102 program implementation satisfies certain performance benchmarks. A further U.S. commitment, made under the April MOU, includes modification of the animal disease status of the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina to allow products such as pork and live swine exports into the United States. These U.S. commitments are intended to delay any trade retaliation until after the 2012 farm bill, when potential changes to U.S. domestic cotton subsidies will be evaluated.

Date of Report: June 21, 2011
Number of Pages: 45
Order Number: RL32571
Price: $29.95

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