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Gatt

Volume 228: debated on Thursday 8 July 1993

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2.

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will meet her American counterparts to discuss the impact of GATT on agriculture.

I hope to find an opportunity for a meeting. GATT, negotiations would certainly figure in such discussions.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. While she will be aware that the Labour party has consistently supported a GATT agreement, is she also aware that we share the concern of the National Farmers Union that the Blair House accord could involve much higher rates of set-aside? Will she make it clear, in any meeting with her American counterparts, that we find that totally unacceptable?

On the whole, I would share the hon. Gentleman's misgivings, were such rumours likely to be true. I think that they are unfounded. I believe that the GATT agreement on agriculture, based on the Blair House accord between the European Community and the United States, is likely to be a good outcome for the EC and I hope that the ground rules laid down in that accord will prove to be the foundation for the GATT agricultural agreement.

Will my right hon. Friend continue to support and fund Food From Britain, which champions the cause of exporters in this country? Is she aware how important exporting is to our producers, as they export approximately 25 per cent. of their produce and, to do so, need the openness in trade that an eventual GATT deal will engender?

It is encouraging that such good progress has been made on GATT negotiations in Tokyo and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has played such an important part in achieving that. Like my hon. Friend, I champion the export achievements of Food From Britain and the work of that excellent organisation. As she says, exports are an important part of our agricultural trade. We are not doing well enough, though. Our £6 billion trade gap is far too big and I hope that all our producers, and especially those represented by Food From Britain, will tackle the unacceptably large gap.

Is the Minister aware that the Labour party warmly welcomes last night's agreement as an important step along the tortuous route to a GATT agreement? Will she confirm, however, that although the French Government have endorsed the Blair House agreement on oil seeds, they have refused to accept the agriculture agreement, which would be essential to an overall GATT package? Will she give the House an assurance that there will be no question of the British Government agreeing concessions to French farming that would discriminate in any way against British agriculture and British jobs?

I am more than happy to give the House that assurance. I have already taken the opportunity of making those points to my French counterpart. I expect to meet him in about a fortnight, when I will repeat them. Since France is third in the world for exports, the French will surely recognise that their own interests would be served by a successful outcome to the GATT round.