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Gatt Uruguay Round

Volume 201: debated on Wednesday 15 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the negotiations over the Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade.

The Director General of the GATT, Mr. Dunkel, issued a draft final agreement for the Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations on 20 December. Initial responses were given at a meeting on 13 January. There will now be a further, final, round of intensive negotiations, with the aim of concluding the round within the next few weeks.

Bearing in mind the importance of the conclusion of the Uruguay round of the GATT to many industries in Britain and to third-world economies, what does my right hon. Friend see as the prospects for overcoming the obstructionism of the socialist Government of France to a successful outcome?

I entirely agree that a successful outcome is important to not only the British and European economies but the economies of the developing world. The European Community has made clear its commitment to reaching an early agreement. It is true that several countries have problems with the agricultural part of the round, but those problems will have to be resolved. I emphasise that the Community has made it clear that it is ready to continue and to complete the negotiations according to the work plan laid down by Mr. Dunkel.

Has the Minister received representations from the British Textile Confederation? It simply states that present proposals are unacceptable because they do not retain a fair and equitable trading system. Will he press that where commitments are made to open markets for textile products, a proper verification procedure must be established? If not, thousands more textile jobs will be lost in the United Kingdom.

Not only have I received representations from the Apparel, Knitting and Textiles Alliance, but my right hon. Friend and I have had most useful discussions with it. I am glad to say that we were broadly in agreement on our approach to the round. The AKT welcomed features in the proposed text such as the improved protection of intellectual property rights—very important to the textile trade—more rapid and effective procedures for settling trade disputes and improved rules on anti-dumping subsidies and safeguards. Those features are all welcome to the textile trade.

Will my right hon. Friends ensure that they maintain a robust position in the final round of the GATT? It is most important to our textile industry that we reach a satisfactory conclusion. We need to preserve the jobs that we have. We have massive investment at present and we want to see it continue.

I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to attach the greatest importance to achieving improved rules and disciplines, as we have throughout, along with better market openings, both of which are of importance to our textile industry, which wants lower tariffs on woollen textiles in the United States of America, where it already has a substantial export trade but where there is great further potential. We shall continue to press to achieve that objective for the benefit of that industry.

Will the Minister go further and give assurances that, however desperate the European negotiators are to achieve a GATT agreement, nothing will be done to sell out the interests of British textiles and clothing? Secondly, if the GATT round collapses, will he give an assurance that contingency arrangements will be made by the British Government to ensure that the multi-fibre arrangement continues and that everything is done to defend employment and the trading position of the British textile industry?

I can assure the hon. Member that there is no question of selling out any section of British industry because it is greatly to the advantage of British industry and the British economy that there should be a satisfactory outcome to the present Uruguay round.