* Mali mulls new cotton varieties to boost yields
* No plans to introduce genetically modified cotton
* Says bigger rivals should reign in subsidies (Recasts lead, adds quote and detail)
By Emma Farge
GENEVA, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Major African cotton producer Mali expects to increase output to 1 million tonnes annually within two to three years, its agriculture minister told Reuters in an interview on Monday, urging bigger producers to reign in harmful subsidies to allow the African sector to thrive.
Mali is targeting a record 2019/20 cotton crop of 800,000 tonnes this year which is expected to make it the top producer in Africa, edging out rival Burkina Faso, although its exports are a fraction of those of cotton giants like India.
“We are currently projecting 1 million tonnes in the next two to three years,” Agriculture Minister Moulaye Ahmed Boubacar said on the sidelines of a cotton conference at Geneva’s World Trade Organization (WTO). He said Mali had no plans to consider genetically modified cotton varieties, citing difficulties with the quality faced by neighbour Burkina Faso.
“We have options to increase our yields without resorting to genetically modified cotton,” he added. “We are currently Africa’s top producer and we intend to stay that way.”
Another member of the Malian delegation specified that research was underway on new varieties, without giving further details about them or when they would be introduced.
The so-called Cotton Four African producers - Mali, Chad, Benin and Burkina Faso - are meeting with other member states at the World Trade Organization in Geneva this week to discuss measures to promote trade. To show their commitment, most African delegates wore striped tunics made from homespun cotton.
One of the key topics they hope to address is the reduction or removal of state subsidies which they say create an uneven playing field for exporters.
Boubacar said in a speech earlier on Monday that these subsidies amounted to $5.9 billion in 2017-2018, without naming the countries involved.
“The effect (of subsidies) is our producers, drawn most often from the most vulnerable layers of society, are increasingly precarious,” he said. “They are subjected to the injustice of subsidies in addition to unstable prices and the harmful effects of climate change,” he added, referring to more frequent droughts in the semi-arid belt known as the Sahel.
The United States and Brazil are the world’s top exporters of cotton, with C4 countries together ranking in fifth position with about 1 million tonnes in annual exports, a WTO document showed.
Proportionally cotton is a bigger contributor to African producers’ budgets and they are also taking steps to encourage more investment in creating African textiles, rather than just exporting raw cotton.
The C4 countries met with other producers such as India and China on Monday to discuss subsidies. But an agreement stopped short of concrete steps, committing merely to “intensify our discussions on factors negatively impacting cotton trade and markets,” a statement said. (Reporting by Emma FargeEditing by Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman)