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World Trade Negotiations

Volume 448: debated on Thursday 6 July 2006

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was in Geneva last week to emphasise our commitment to the Doha development agenda in meetings with the EU Trade Commissioner, Mr. Mandelson, and counterparts in other EU member states—[Interruption.] I knew that that would wake them up.

With or without water, I am better than the hon. Gentleman.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I continue to discuss the Doha development agenda with Trade Ministers of other World Trade Organisation member countries. In the past few weeks, between us, we have spoken to, among others, the Trade Ministers of the United States, China, Brazil, Finland, Sri Lanka, Botswana, South Africa and India, and the Deputy Foreign Secretary of Morocco. Other members of the Government have also been in contact with their opposite numbers. We also remain in regular contact with business and civil society.

The Minister will understand the paradox that we starve the poor by refusing to buy their food from them. Agricultural goods would not have been brought into the World Trade Organisation, however, had it not been for the success of Leon Brittan in outmanoeuvring the French during the Uruguay round. Unfortunately, Commissioner Mandelson has not been as successful. If the talks collapse, what is the Minister’s plan B in relation to the agenda of making poverty history? Did he see the remarks by—

That is another typical Conservative approach. In government, the Conservatives cut support to the world’s poorest countries by 50 per cent.; this Government have increased it by 140 per cent. Until recently, the Conservatives had never supported our objectives for the Doha negotiations. Those objectives include more trade opportunities and fewer unfair subsidies, from Europe, in agriculture, and from the United States. We want to see no strings, which means no quotas or duties on exports from the least developed countries to developed and richer developing countries. We want to see significant support for the poorest countries to help them to take advantage of increased trade by building capacity. We lead the world in that investment, and in liberalisation on those countries’ terms. That means that any liberation of developing markets must be consistent with their capacity to adapt development programmes.

We are leading the debate, and I am certain that our discussions over the next couple of weeks will move us to a point at which we can secure an agreement. An ambitious pro-development deal will lift millions out of poverty, and the Government are leading the drive towards it.

Given that the European Union currently spends €64,000 million each year in trade-distorting domestic support for agricultural production—the effect of which is dramatically to exacerbate the plight of the poorest and most destitute people on the planet—does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is essential for that support to be discontinued as soon as possible, so that the poorest people in the world can be given a decent opportunity to compete, to grow and to fend effectively for themselves?

The Government have been at the forefront of reform of the common agricultural policy and United States subsidies. The difference between our party and the hon. Gentleman and his party is that we can influence the outcome. At a time when we need more influence in Europe, the hon. Gentleman’s party is turning to the extreme right and rejecting the mainstream in Europe.

Why did the British Government agree to the withdrawal of approximately 200 so-called sensitive agricultural items from the European Commission’s negotiating offer? Did that not constitute a disastrous weakness and oversight?

I will answer the question. As my favourite poet would say, “Haud yer wheesht”. [Laughter.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to know who that is, it is Rab C. Nesbitt. [Laughter.] That was a joke.

The Government are at the forefront of delicate discussions and negotiations to secure a package that is compatible with reducing agricultural tariffs, linked with appropriate access for the G20 countries to services and productive goods without agricultural tariffs. If we can secure that agreement, it will constitute a significant step forward for the world’s poorest countries. I assure the House that everything we are doing is aimed at achieving that delicate balance, and we will succeed.

Despite the Minister’s protestations about politics, is it not a fact that European Union protectionism is one of the major barriers to a successful conclusion of the World Trade Organisation talks—whether it takes the form of unwanted agricultural subsidies or Peter Mandelson’s shoe-dumping tax, which is costing some of the poorest people in the country £20 a year? Would it not be a disaster if the talks failed? It would be a disaster for some of the poorest countries in the world. What further representations can the Minister make to his friend, Trade Commissioner Mandelson, to ensure that the EU pulls its weight in the talks?

Every single country must make a move, and every single trade bloc must make a move. That is precisely what we have been doing in our discussions. This Government sit at the negotiating table, unlike the last Conservative Government, who left the negotiating table and did not participate in an effective way.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman’s party has now recognised the need to achieve a successful round of talks, but it has done so 10 years too late. This Government are taking action with our colleagues in Europe. I hope that during our discussions over the next fortnight we can get that delicate balance right, and secure a successful agreement to help the world’s poorest countries.