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Egypt Bans Cotton Imports, Panic Ensues

Egypt's once legendary cotton industry remains in crisis.

Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture decided this Tuesday to ban cotton imports into the country temporarily, though no precise period of time has been set. The move is one intended to protect domestic cotton production but many experts are raising concerns that the ban may end up negatively affecting Egypt’s textile industry instead.

The primary issue is, although the government claims that the ban has been put in place to “defend the interests of cotton producers, manufacturers and exporters,” Egypt’s textile industry actually depends on the importation of short-staple cotton. Cotton is divided into two categories; short-staple and long-staple. While the long-staple cotton creates the high-end luxurious material that Egypt is famous for, the country largely exports it as a raw material due to the high cost of turning it into a final product and the domestic industry’s lack of expertise in the field. The short-staple cotton on the other hand, which is of lower quality, is what is largely used among Egyptian manufacturers and it is a crop rarely grown in Egypt, so it is imported.  

Chairman of the Chamber of Textile Industries, Mohamed El-Morshedy, spoke out against the new decree, saying “How can we ban importing a type of cotton that we don’t even grow? It’s a raw material that we don’t have. We don’t produce small or medium-staple cotton, and these are the main raw materials used in manufacturing,” according to Ahram Online.

Others argue that the decision will have a positive impact on the farmers, such as Cairo University Agricultural Economist Gama Siam who says that the ban will push cotton traders to buy domestic cotton at a better price, but he concedes that it will harm the textile industry that depends on short-staple cotton. Siam maintains that “the ideal solution would be for the government to provide subsidies” but earlier this year the longstanding system in place which ensured that the government would buy cotton yields from farmers was effectively brought to an end.