An Uzbek farmer tills a cotton field outside Tashkent
Moscow - AFP
Major cotton exporter Uzbekistan said on Monday that it had exported $1 billion worth of textile products this year, adding that international sales are expected to grow.
The announcement was made shortly after the United States criticised the tightly-controlled Central Asian country for failing to stop using forced labour in its cotton fields.
"This year the total volume of exports of textile products has reached $1 billion", said Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
"Export volumes are being ramped up every year," he said at an annual cotton fair in the capital Tashkent.
Mirziyoyev added that Uzbekistan, the world's fifth-largest cotton exporter, had last year produced 3.3 million tonnes of cotton and expected to reach the same target in 2014.
Around 1,000 participants from 40 countries have registered to attend this year's Tashkent Cotton Fair, which is held every autumn, at the peak of cotton harvesting time in the ex-Soviet republic.
'Children mobilised to pick cotton'
Rights campaigners accuse the Uzbek government of forcibly mobilising public employees, including doctors and teachers, and students to harvest what Uzbekistan calls its "national treasure".
Ahead of the two-day event, rights activists campaigning against the use of child labour announced that British retailer Tesco had joined more than 150 companies which pledged to stop using cotton grown in Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan officially banned child labour in its cotton fields in 2008, but the United States government said recently that the country had made no progress in its efforts to eliminate it.
"The national government maintained policies in the cotton sector, which mandate harvest quotas and cause local administrators to organise and impose forced labour on children and adults," the US Department of Labour said in a report.
The report added however that Uzbekistan had invited a high-level mission from the International Labour Organisation to observe the 2013 harvest.
"And reports indicate that the government did ensure that young children (under age 15) were able to continue to attend school during the harvest season," the US Department of Labour added in the annual report.
"However, local government officials continued to close secondary schools (colleges and lyceums) during the harvest, mobilising children ages 15 to 17 to pick cotton to meet the government-mandated harvest quotas."
Authorities in Tashkent say the accusations are false and part of an effort to undermine Uzbek cotton exports.
Uzbekistan exports textile products to more than 50 countries and cotton fibre mostly to China, Bangladesh, Turkey, Russia, Singapore and South Korea.