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Trade Liberalisation

Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 7 October 2003

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What discussions he has had on progress with world trade liberalisation.[124651]

At the International Monetary Fund, I chaired a discussion of the trade negotiations by the governors of the IMF and central banks and the head of the World Trade Organisation. That was in the run-up to what we hope will be the successful outcome of the trade negotiations in Cancun in Mexico.

I thank the Chancellor for that reply. Will he join me in congratulating the Trade Justice Movement and Christian Aid on organising last weekend's campaigns—involving many Members of Parliament—to raise liberalisation issues across the country? The question being asked in Portsmouth, in support of the Government's move, was whether the Government would maintain the momentum to enable the poorer countries to be free to choose the way in which they obtain sustainable development and poverty reduction in their own countries.

My hon. Friend is right. A successful outcome for the world trade negotiations could lift 300 million people out of poverty. That is why I applaud the work done last weekend in presenting the case of the Trade Justice Movement to Members of Parliament in all political parties, and why I hope that the trade discussions that will take place in Cancun will gain extra momentum.

There are a number of areas in which progress must be made. The first is agriculture, but that has been helped by what happened in the European Union last week, and I hope that the talks can now move to a successful conclusion. The second is pharmaceuticals. As my hon. Friend knows, there is considerable worry about a failure to reach an agreement allowing drugs, particularly generic drugs, to go to the poorest countries. I hope that those who have not been able to sign up to that agreement will now do so.

As for access to the developing countries generally, I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that the Government's record in ensuring that the developing countries' voice is heard in the trade negotiations is something of which we should be proud, but also something that we should continue and extend.

Given that agriculture subsidies of up to $1 billion a day are gravely damaging to some of the poorest people in the world, and that the poor countries have vastly fewer resources to enable them to make their case in international trade negotiations than their richer counterparts, will the Chancellor endorse the Conservative proposal to establish an advocacy fund, paid for by the richest countries in the world, to allow the poorest countries in the world to choose the best possible legal representation to protect their interests and ensure that they will enjoy the level playing field that they have not enjoyed in the past?

I will of course look at any proposal that is presented, but the hon. Gentleman must recognise that the United Kingdom Government have been helping the developing countries through the IMF and the World Bank and in the WTO talks, and will continue to do so.

The decoupling that took place in last week's European Union agriculture talks is of some help, but we shall have to move the talks forward with other initiatives in other areas over the next few months. If legal assistance is needed we shall be willing to consider it, as we have done in regard to debt relief and at the International Monetary Fund. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, in involving the developing countries, we all share the same aims.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although further trade liberalisation is essential, there may be a case for offering protection to emerging markets in the least developed countries? That is one of the points made to me by members of the Trade Justice Movement when they visited my advice surgery. How will the issue be dealt with in the Cancun talks?

I agree that that is a point of contention between the WTO and others who are presenting proposals, including many non-governmental organisations that subscribe to the Trade Justice Movement. I believe that there is a way forward, however. The sequencing of capital liberalisation and trade liberalisation will enable us to bridge the gap between the position taken by some NGOs and that taken by some of the Governments who have not yet reached agreement in the WTO. I think that the answer for some of the poorest countries is to work within the WTO to bring about a sequencing of their liberalisation. If they do so they will not lose out, and at the same time will gain the benefit of trade in the world market.

The Chancellor has the details of the Conservatives' pledge to establish an advocacy fund to help secure a fair deal on trade for the people of the developing countries, consisting of contributions from the world's rich nations. Those details were in a letter from my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Chancellor that the Chancellor received 10 days ago. The fund would allow developing countries access—according to their own choice—to the highest-quality economic advice and advocacy on trade issues and WTO round negotiations, and support in the settling of trade disputes.

As the Chancellor knows from that letter—and the answer that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) was not unhelpful—this is designed to be a long-term, sustainable fund, despite being misrepresented as short-term by the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, who declined to correct his error. Our advocacy fund will go far beyond what is currently available from the Geneva advice centre.

On the bipartisan basis on which the Chancellor always seeks—and indeed receives—our support for initiatives to help developing countries, will he now respond to the proposals set out in my right hon. and learned Friend's letter, and support our advocacy fund initiative?

Of course, as I said earlier, we will look at every proposal that is put forward. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting economic advocacy but the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) was suggesting legal advocacy. We will examine this issue in detail, but I will not be prepared to have international development funds being paid out in big fat fees to lawyers over the next few years. What I will do is to look at how we can help the poorest countries in all the areas in which they are negotiating—that includes the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO—and on which we have already made progress in terms of debt relief. We are prepared to look at such proposals, but there will be no huge payments in fat fees for lawyers.