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Sugar Cane (Fiji Meeting)

Volume 932: debated on Monday 16 May 1977

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asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a statement concerning the outcome of the recent African, Caribbean and Pacific nations meeting in Fiji, with particular reference to the future of sugar cane imports to the United Kingdom.

With permission, I will answer Question No. 38.

The Community delegation to this second meeting of the ACP/EEC Council of Ministers was headed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, representing the presidency, and I led the British delegation. The meeting was considered to be a success by both the Community and our African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners in the Lomé Convention. There was frank discussion leading to genuine co-operation and mutually acceptable solutions for the major outstanding problems. The Community's export earnings stabilisation scheme, Stabex, was expanded to include a number of new products, and concessions were extended to Western Samoa, Tonga, Seychelles, the Comores and Lesotho.

I took the chair at a financial working group, which worked out a resolution to define the policy for financial co-operation under the Lomé Convention. The resolution conceded an ACP request for a separate ACP/EEC sub-committee to examine the special problems of the least developed, landlocked and island countries. It was also agreed that the Seychelles and Comores should be added to the list of least developed countries in Article 48 of the Lomé Convention.

On trade matters the Community agreed to consider granting more favourable treatment to certain products from the ACP States and to hold joint talks on others. The Community is to study suggestions made by the ACP about the Community's standards for maximum levels of aflatoxin in imported feeding stuffs.

In response to a request from the ACP States, the Community announced that it would restore the original sugar export quotas of certain ACP countries which had not delivered their full commitment in the preceding year and whose quotas had consequently been reduced. In reaching this decision we recognised that these countries might have encountered special difficulties in implementing the sugar protocol for the first time, and the Community made it clear that the decision should not be seen as a precedent for future years. The Council agreed to consider requests from Zambia and Liberia to accede to the sugar protocol to the Lomé Convention.

It was agreed to refer for consideration by officials an ACP proposal for the establishment of a joint ACP/EEC centre for agricultural co-operation. I have arranged for a copy of the Press communique made after the meeting to be placed in the Library, and I shall circulate further details in the Official Report.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that full reply to this most important international conference, which, I think she will agree, is more important to long-term world relations than perhaps certain appointments or non-appointments. Will she tell the House whether the future of sugar imports into the EEC and Britain is a long-term assurance, whether there is a one-way ratchet mechanism which is now operating for just one year, and whether the renegotiation of sugar in 1980–81 could threaten the future of the cane sugar industry in this country?

As my hon. Friend will recognise, before and, indeed, during the renegotiations on our entry to the Market and on the first sugar arrangements that were made, these matters are in one respect matters for the discussion within the context of the Lomé Convention and in another respect matters for discussions within the Agricultural Council of the EEC. It is true to say that nothing that was decided in Fiji bears very strongly on the discussions still to take place in the Agricultural Council.

Is it or is it not the policy of the Government to press for the continued import of cane sugar in substantial quantities from these Third World countries?

The meeting in Fiji was concerned with the operation of the agreements that have already been reached. Quite honestly, it would be better if that question were addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in spite of some progress at Fiji there also seems to have been disappointment by the ACP countries that they have not had real success in improving the importing of products like bananas, beef and rum, which would considerably assist in their prosperity?

My hon. Friend is right in the sense that in Fiji we agreed to refer the question of bananas and rum for further study and we shall get a further report on that. But I emphasise that the results of the Fiji meeting were recognised in the communiqué by the ACP countries as being a considerable success. It is true that at the beginning of the meeting, which lasted for almost a week, there were doubts whether it would be successful but at the end of the week it was agreed that it was successful. Certain questions were referred for further study. Those are the ones to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Was there any discussion about the operation of the European Development Fund, and did the developing countries express satisfaction or dissatisfaction about its operation so far?

There was a very lengthy discussion in the working party that I chaired. That helped a great deal, because there were a number of questions from the ACP countries about the way in which the EDF was operating. The discussion that took place helped clear the air a great deal and was generally helpful.

With regard to continuing imports of cane sugar from Commonwealth developing countries, do the present Government accept the undertaking given by the previous Government, which took us into the Common Market, about bankable assurances?

Our position with regard to the need to safeguard the interests of the cane sugar producing countries in the Commonwealth stands exactly as it was. The question that now arises concerns the detailed negotiations in the Agricultural Council and how that has to be implemented.

Since there are jobs involved on Merseyside, in Scotland and elsewhere, will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear that the position on the import of sugar has not worsened and that the Government are doing their best to ensure that we get further imports of cane sugar to look after the jobs of the workers concerned?

There is no doubt about that at all. Our objectives are absolutely clear. All I am trying to explain to the House is that on this question, as is so often the case within the European Community, there is more than one forum of discussion. I am trying to explain that the forum of discussion with which my hon. Friend is now concerned lies with the Agricultural Council during the course of its discussions in the near future. There is no doubt at all about our concern to protect the interests of the cane producing countries of the Commonwealth, which equally match the needs of workers in the cane processing industry in Britain.

The further details are as follows:

The Community's export earnings stabilisation scheme, Stabex, was expanded to include vanille, cloves, pyrethrum, gum arabic, ylang ylang, wool and mohair. The concession under the scheme, which grants eligibility to exports to all destinations, rather than solely the Community, was extended to Western Samoa, Tonga, Seychelles, the Comores and Lesotho. The Community also pledged that where exceptional events may distort the trade figures that are used to calculate the financial transfer the Community will seek a solution through a favourable interpretation of the existing provisions of the scheme.

On trade matters the Community agreed to consider granting more favourable treatment to tomatoes and melons from the ACP States. Joint talks with the ACP countries are to be held on the questions of rum and bananas. The Community is to study suggestions made by the ACP about the Community's standards for maximum levels of aflatoxin in imported feeding stuffs. Community aid for trade promotion is to be expanded to include improvements in the training of personnel and in the marketing of ACP products. Temporary derogations from the Rules of Origin have been granted to Kenya and Malawi for one year to enable them to use third country fish-hooks in the manufacture of artificial fishing flies to be exported to the Community. These derogations are intended to give these countries time to establish Community sources of supply. A joint working party is to be established to identify and assess the effects on ACP exports of the generalised preferences granted by the Community to the developing world as a whole.