At the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13) in Abu Dhabi, WTO’s director-general, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stressed that more value must be added to cotton produced in West Africa.

She said: “Despite cotton’s vital importance to the livelihoods of people in the Cotton-4 (C-4) countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali and other African cotton-producing countries, much remains to be done to unleash the sector’s potential to drive growth, development and job creation.”

C4 countries require increased support

Okonjo-Iweala pointed out the lack of cotton processing activity within the region, quoting data which showed that exports of cotton thread and tshirts worth “barely over $100,000 compared to around $800m for exports of cotton lint in an average year”.

She added: “The lack of these countries’ participation in global textile value chains has resulted in fewer job opportunities for young people,” she added.

The WTO and FIFA joined forces in September 2022 to look at ways of leveraging the cotton sector for developing countries.

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As part of this partnership, the two organisations signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to explore opportunities to enhance the participation of the “Cotton Four” (C4) and other least developed country (LDC) cotton producers in global football apparel value chains.

This initiative is believed to be a pivotal step in enabling cotton producers and manufacturers to tap into new markets, including in the sports apparel and garment industry.

WTO and FIFA’s initiative has reportedly garnered the support of new partners since its inception, including the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, the International Trade Centre, the African Export-Import Bank, the International Cotton Advisory Committee, and Better Cotton.

The director-general noted that currently, partners are conducting an assessment in C4 countries and Côte d’Ivoire, with the aim of better understanding the development needs of the cotton sector.

WTO, Fifa’s new Partenariat pour le Coton brand

Okonjo-Iweala said the new brand, which is called Partenariat pour le Coton — marks a new stage in the partners’ efforts to boost the cotton sector.

“It is our hope that this brand and logo will encourage others to join this partnership and start ramping up investment and value addition in the C-4, along with increased exports,” she stated.

Okonjo-Iweala highlighted that supporting cotton transformation in West Africa goes beyond improving trade performance. She emphasised that it is most of all about improving economic opportunities and the lives of women and young people through promoting sustainable production and processing.

FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino underscored FIFA’s commitment to leveraging the power of football to make a greater impact on people’s lives.

He said: “Together with the WTO and other partners, FIFA wants to do something real, something concrete, something impactful, and something that will have an influence on the lives of many people. We want to create jobs. We want to help in the fight against poverty. We want to empower women — especially in these countries — and this is something that we need to pursue and push.”

Leaders from partner organisations and businesses also participated in two panel discussions during the conference. The first showcased various organisations’ experiences in supporting Africa’s sustainable socio-economic development. While, the second heard perspectives from the private sector on how businesses can explore and benefit from new opportunities in the African cotton value chain.