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World Trade Organisation

Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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1.

What action she is taking to make the Doha trade round benefit developing countries. [123219]

May I begin by wishing you a very happy birthday, Mr. Speaker? It is an especially good week to celebrate being fifty-something.

We are determined to make the Doha round work, especially in the interests of developing countries. That is why I visited Thailand, India and South Africa in the past year for discussions with other Trade Ministers. I shall visit central America with Christian Aid in September on my way to Cancun. If we could halve protectionism and trade barriers globally, we could cut the number of people in the developing world who live in poverty by more than 300 million by 2015. That would be a significant contribution towards achieving the millennium development goals.

May I add my congratulations to those of my right hon. Friend to you on your birthday, Mr. Speaker, and perhaps dare to draw hon. Members' attention to the fact that it is also my birthday today? That is a happy congruence, which my parents arranged as a tribute to you, with great prescience.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. Has she assessed last week's statement on common agricultural policy reform, especially its implications for the new trade round?

I am delighted by the big step forward that we took in the European Agriculture Council last week. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Our initial assessment of last week's agreement shows that it will enable the European Union to accept—indeed, to better—the proposal in Stuart Harbinson's paper for reductions in agricultural subsidies. There is much else to be done, not least by the United States, but last week's deal in the Agriculture Council removes one of the biggest barriers on the road to Cancun.

But is not the reality that, although the CAP improvements are welcome, they will not happen until 2013? They do not include any changes to the sugar regime. Does the Secretary of State accept that subsidies are a menace, not only through the CAP but through the United States, which she mentioned? Will she use her best endeavours tomorrow, the next day and the day after that to speak to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and persuade the Department to ensure the removal of all such subsidies?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box. I know that, before he became a Member of Parliament, he spent considerable time working in eastern and southern Africa and that he is committed to the agenda that I described.

The British Government have led the way and argued successfully for reform of the CAP. We have made considerably more progress than the Conservatives when they were in government. We are leading the charge against the sugar subsidies, which will be discussed in Europe later this year, because they are disastrous for some of the poorest countries, including Mozambique.

The Conservative party, especially its leader, has experienced a welcome conversion to the cause of free and fair trade. However, let me remind Opposition Members of their record when they were in government and could have done something about the matter. They were behind the intellectual property agreement that did nothing—

Order. The Secretary of State has been very nice to me this morning, but I have to stop her.

Last week, like many other hon. Members, I participated in the lobbies of the Trade Justice Movement. My constituents raised their anxieties that a World Trade Organisation agreement on investment might harm developing countries. Does my right hon. Friend share those concerns? If so, what does she intend to do about it?

The new issues we are discussing—which include investment, but also such matters as trade facilitation and Government procurement—are on the agenda because it is clear that developing countries need more investment, and that a multilateral agreement on investment could help to remove some of the barriers that result in those countries' receiving no foreign direct investment. As I made clear last week, no decisions have yet been made on the structure or content of an agreement. We will review progress in Cancun in September, and we in the United Kingdom Government will not sign up to anything that is not in the interests of the developing countries overall.

Will the Secretary of State join me in condemning the complacent and arrogant attitude of the European Union's trade negotiators, Mr. Lamy and Mr. Fischler, who have dismissed the possibility of any early move to improve market access to, for instance, sugar as "unilateral disarmament"? Does that not either represent the most primitive kind of protectionist economic thinking, or suggest that the negotiators are being unduly influenced by agricultural lobbies in Europe? In either event, should they not be fired?

I normally find myself agreeing with the hon. Gentleman about trade issues, but I think that he is quite wrong in this instance. Pascal Lamy played a crucial role in securing the launch of the Doha development round, and Commissioner Fischler has played an outstanding role. Had it not been for his persistence, I do not think that we would have secured agreement on the reforms in the Agriculture Council last week. In the European Union—again, on the initiative of Commissioner Lamy—we agreed the everything but arms initiative specifically to help the least developed countries.

There is a huge job to be done in dismantling our sugar subsidies. That must be discussed and agreed in the European Union later this year; but I think that the agreement that we reached in the Agriculture Council last week makes agreement on dismantling these absurd subsidies more likely.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many developing countries share the anxieties of the Trade Justice Movement about any extension of the agenda to include investment? What action will she take to ensure that they have their say in the negotiations?

The developing countries constitute the majority of the membership of the World Trade Organisation, and nothing can be agreed in the round unless everyone is signed up to the package. Let me make it clear, however, that neither for the developing countries nor for us and the other developed countries are these new issues the first priority. The first priority is to obtain an agreement with the United States Government on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights—TRIPS—and access to medicines. The second priority is to secure agreement on the appalling, trade-distorting agricultural subsidies; we helped enormously with that last week. We must then proceed to secure other forms of market access that will, above all, be good for developing countries.

2.

What action she is taking to meet the obligations agreed by the Government at Doha in 2001. [123220]

Trade rules must be reformed to benefit the poor. The Government have worked hard to ensure that the changes in WTO rules being negotiated in the Doha round will benefit developing countries. The recent very positive outcome of the discussions on CAP reform in the EU Agriculture Council should now act as a catalyst for other WTO members, like the US, to liberalise their markets.

Like the hon. Member for Watford (Claire Ward), I had meetings with the Trade Justice Movement last week in Ewell and Ashtead in my constituency. The movement is hugely frustrated by the fact that while a process is under way to require the opening of markets in the developing world, the process of opening markets properly in the developed world is progressing at a snail's pace. The movement wants action. When can the Minister deliver that action, on a short time scale?

Obviously those issues must be negotiated at Cancun. That is why we are having a meeting in September; they are part of the wider Doha round. The whole process of the negotiation is aimed at securing changes that will benefit not only the developing countries but the developed world. If we can reduce our trade barriers by 50 per cent., we will benefit world trade by creating $150 billion of extra trade in the world. That will have to happen over time, but happen it must.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position on the Front Bench. I also welcome the Government's attitude to the WTO round, as did my constituents when they came to see me at the lobby last week. Does he agree that besides pressing for good governance for developing countries, we should also press for companies that provide international investment to take on board the best guidelines for corporate social responsibility, which I know the Secretary of State has been especially keen on?

I certainly agree that corporate social responsibility is vital. We need to ensure that our own companies in this country, in particular, recognise that when they invest in developing countries we expect them to adopt the highest standards in their treatment of both their workers and the environment.