USDA Scientists Help Resolve Cotton Quality
Standard Issue By Kim Kaplan
WASHINGTON, May 18--U.S.
Department of Agriculture scientists' expertise in measuring cotton quality
has helped ensure continued access to China, a market worth $733 million in
2003 to U.S. cotton producers.
In 2002, China notified the World
Trade Organization that it was going to institute new mandatory standards
for short fiber content and nep count in cotton bales as measured by tests not
currently used in international trade. Neps are small knots of tangled fibers
that can reduce fabric quality. Since the new tests would be time-consuming and
costly and would only be required in China, they represented a potential trade
barrier. This concerned both USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which guides cotton quality
standardization, and the National Cotton
Council of America.
So AMS and the National Cotton Council turned to the
Agricultural Research Service, USDA's
chief in-house scientific research agency, for help in evaluating the new China
tests. The ARS team was led by Xiaoliang "Leon" Cui, a research cotton
technologist, and Patricia Bel, a research textile engineer, both at the ARS
Southern Regional Research
Center in New Orleans, La. Cui is a leading expert in measuring cotton
fiber length, and Bel is an expert in measuring neps.
Before the ARS scientists could begin their evaluation of the
China methods, they first had to obtain the test instrument to be used by the
Chinese, and then translate the test standards from Chinese. In a matter of
weeks, the ARS scientists finished experiments to see how reliable the China
methods were. They also established equations using results from conventional
laboratory fiber testing methods to predict the results if U.S. cotton was
tested by the China methods.
Cui organized a briefing for China cotton experts to explain
internationally recognized test methods and the reliability of those methods.
With research results and technical advice from ARS, AMS was able to quickly
respond to Chinese government officials regarding technical aspects of the new
The Chinese government has postponed implementation of the new
standards and recently announced that the Chinese cotton classification system
will be reformed. This reform will not only help China modernize its classing
system, but also facilitate the export of U.S. cotton.
"We are helping the Chinese to adopt internationally recognized
methods also used by USDA, and the ARS work has been a great help to us," said
Norma R. McDill, AMS deputy administrator of the agency's cotton program.
"Since U.S. cotton exports to China in the 2003-2004 market year are likely to
be about 5 million bales, this is a very important accomplishment."
"The fast work and expertise of the ARS scientists were critical
to gaining Chinese officials' commitment to internationally recognized
standards and testing methods that are important to the U.S. cotton industry,"
added Andrew G. Jordan, vice president for technical services for the National
Cotton Council of America.
"The ability of ARS to respond quickly to a new problem and to
support USDA regulatory agencies with good objective research is part of our
core mission," said ARS Acting Administrator Edward B. Knipling. "We're very
proud of our scientists such as Dr. Cui and Dr. Bel who can provide answers
when they're needed."