The Cotton Program provides cotton classification services required for foreign aid-related sales to overseas customers, arbitration for sales disputes, and classification service for foreign-grown cotton. In addition, the official classification record for every bale classed for the current or previous year's crop is available by telecommunication from the National Database to any subsequent owner of the cotton. The data is commonly provided to foreign buyers of U.S. grown and exported cotton.
International participation in USDA's cotton standardization services began in 1923, when the first Universal Cotton Standards Agreement was established with USDA and overseas spinner and merchant associations as signatories. The official participation of the U.S. cotton industry segments was not made a part of the Agreement until its revision in 1989. USDA's long history of leadership in seeking the input of foreign customers in the establishment of cotton grade standards has boosted the worldwide market position of U.S.-grown cotton over the years. This competitive edge has been furthered by the sale of USDA's cotton grade standards boxes and calibration standards worldwide, and the USDA standards are commonly used to grade upland-type cotton in the international market, even when it is not grown in the United States. The international check test and level assessment programs maintained by the Cotton Program as a part of the cotton standardization program continue this leadership in quality determination, as no other comparable programs exist in major cotton-producing countries.