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World Trade Organisation

Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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If she will make a statement on her objectives for the forthcoming WTO meeting in Cancun. [123222]

Our immediate objectives are to secure agreement on affordable access to medicines, and on a framework for an agreement on agriculture. We shall also press for agreeing special and differential treatment for developing countries, reducing non-agricultural tariffs and increasing private services liberalisation.

On that last point, will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that in Cancun, she will not take a position that prevents developing countries from controlling their own economies or deciding on their own period of trade liberalisation and timetable for free trade? Will she ensure that the trade emerging from Cancun is fair trade, and not just free trade?

As I have said repeatedly, what we want to do within the WTO is to create a framework of trade rules that is indeed fair, as well as free. That means sorting out rules on special and differential treatment, so that developing countries can indeed pace liberalisation with particular reference to products and sectors that are of great importance and sensitivity to their own economies. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not falling into the trap of believing that the way in which developing countries should cope with agricultural subsidies in Europe and America, for instance, is by trying to match them with their own subsidies. The answer is for us to dismantle our subsidies and open up our markets to their products.

Surely one of the most important things that could come out of Cancun would be an enhanced reputation for the WTO, because it represents a rules-based trading system, which is the most effective way of reducing tariffs. In some respects, that is more effective than the granting of vast sums of aid, which can often be dissipated by all manner of incompetence and corruption in the recipient countries.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. It is very clear that if we can create a system of free and fair world trade, we will deliver far bigger benefits to the developing countries than aid budgets ever will. We need both, but trade is crucial. I also agree about the importance of the WTO and, indeed, of the growing capacity of developing countries, which are now using WTO rules to try to enforce access, on fair terms, to the markets of developed countries. The reality is that if we do not succeed in Cancun, we will destroy the possibility of a rules-based trading system. That understanding is growing and people are redoubling their efforts to ensure that we do indeed succeed in this Doha development round.

I fully support the Secretary of State's commitment to fair and free trade. Poorer people in developing countries would like to help themselves, and if we can give them a hand up, rather than a handout, that is a better way forward. Does she accept that our own farming community is very concerned about what the future holds, and that it is important that the Government should, at the earliest possible date, actively spell out how the proposals will affect family farms and their other impacts?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks on the negotiations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has already set out the principles through which we will approach agricultural policy reform in the United Kingdom. The agreement that we reached last week was broadly welcomed within farming communities. It will enable them to receive support from taxpayers for sustaining the rural environment, but it will no longer give them ridiculous incentives to over-produce and over-farm land, which is damaging to our own environment, as well as to that of developing countries. I think that the complete transformation of the common agricultural policy will be good for our farmers and good for our rural environment, as well as for some of the poorest people in the world.

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. That may have been an anticipation of your birthday celebrations. May I offer generic congratulations to you, Mr. Speaker, to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound), to anyone else born on 3 July and to all the distinguished new arrivals on the Front Bench on both sides of the House? I particularly endorse the remarks of the Minister for Employment Relations, Competition and Consumers when he paid a warm and fully justified tribute to the integrity, conscientiousness and distinction of the Whips on both sides of the House—especially my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff). I am heading for an evening off one day next week.

Given that controversies over genetically modified crops may well surface at Cancun, will the Secretary of State join me in rejecting President Bush's criticism that European anxieties over the environmental impact of GM crops are not scientifically based? Will the British Government give unqualified support to proposals for a rigorous, robust and transparent labelling regime for all foods containing genetically modified ingredients, so that consumers in Britain and other countries know exactly what they are eating?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the American Administration does not sufficiently understand the depth of public concern on food safety issues, particularly GM food, in the European Union. That forms an important part of the background to our negotiations within the WTO. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has made clear, we strongly support a proper and practicable labelling regime for GM ingredients. We think that there should be a full public debate on that issue and we are facilitating that, but we need to proceed on the basis of rigorous scientific evidence. That is what we are doing and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support us.