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Doha Round

Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2007

3. What steps he is taking to secure further progress on the development aspects of the Doha round of trade talks. (110691)

We welcome the recently renewed discussions on the Doha round and are working closely with EU member states, the US and other World Trade Organisation members at all levels to help to break the deadlock in negotiations. We continue in particular to push for progress on the issues of greatest concern to developing countries, especially improved market access and a reduction in trade-distorting subsidies.

I thank the Minister for that reply, and particularly for his comment on improved market access. Farm subsidies and tariff barriers cost poor countries twice as much as they receive in aid. Does the Minister agree that only through fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy will the EU fulfil its moral obligation to make poverty history?

I agree with the hon. Lady’s first point about the need to make further progress in reducing subsidies. One of the great examples to demonstrate the veracity of that is cotton, as subsidies to US and EU cotton farmers have helped to depress cotton prices. The World Bank estimates, for example, that farmers in west Africa lose some $75 million to $100 million per year as a result. In relation to her second point, we have already seen progress on common agricultural policy reform. We have said that we want to do more on that, and preparatory work has started. Substantive discussions will take place at the mid-point in the current EU budget review process in 2008-09, when we hope to see further evidence of progress.

Does my hon. Friend agree that giving the least developed countries the technical support that they need is one of the best ways to ensure good development outcomes at Doha? What support is the Department giving to those least developed countries, because, despite the extremely good work of the South Centre, for instance, they are generally woefully under-resourced at those talks?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point: the whole international community has a responsibility to make sure that those least developed countries have proper representation in the World Trade Organisation negotiations. That is one of the reasons why we have provided direct financial support to the LDC group, including help in Geneva, where it is based, to commission research and analysis to define its trade positions. Through our direct country programmes, we have also helped Lesotho and Zambia, for example, to secure the analysis and expertise that they need to formulate their own policies in country. We continue to provide resources to help those developing countries which need to recruit negotiators, such as £1.6 million worth of support to the Caribbean to fund its regional negotiating machinery.

Given that Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad depend on cotton for between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. of their export earnings, but that the United States spends more than $3 billion a year subsidising 25,000 inefficient but politically powerful cotton producers, does the Minister agree that the United States should recognise that its policy is morally objectionable and has the effect of exacerbating the plight of some of the poorest people on the planet?

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I hope that he will accept, in light of my answer to his hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main), that we believe that substantial progress on cotton can be made in the WTO talks, to make an immediate difference to some of the poorest people in parts of Africa. We need our American allies to show flexibility and to give some ground in the talks. We also need the European Commission to do so. I know that constructive discussions have taken place between the Trade Commissioner and his American counterpart, and we will continue to do all that we can to help to further those negotiations, get the necessary progress and end the deadlock that we have seen up to now.

What reports have Her Majesty’s Government received about the outcome of talks over the weekend between the European Trade Commissioner and the US trade representative? Irrespective of the outcome of Doha, will my hon. Friend continue to press colleagues in Europe for more aid for trade, so that developing countries get the maximum benefit from concessions such as “Everything but Arms” and are able to export more to Europe?

As I indicated in my answer to the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), the discussions that have taken place between Peter Mandelson and his American counterpart seem to have been constructive. More progress and flexibility in the American position is needed, and I hope that we will soon see further evidence of that. I also accept my hon. Friend’s point about the need for further progress on aid for trade. That will be particularly important to help the least developed countries to take advantage of progress in the WTO round. He will be aware that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a further increase in our target for aid for trade spending back in September. Obviously, we will continue to encourage our allies in Europe to make similar commitments.

There have recently been warm words from Europe and America about reinvigorating the Doha talks, but I am not convinced that there is any real political will behind that. It was certainly not at the top of the agenda of the President’s “State of the Union” speech last night. What new and different steps has the Secretary of State taken recently to break the inertia and take advantage of the different political landscape that now exists in the American Congress?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her appointment as shadow Secretary of State for International Development. Let me repeat what I have said in response to earlier questions. The EC representative, Peter Mandelson, has taken part in constructive discussions, as did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his visit to the United States just before Christmas. My right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry held useful and productive discussions with their Indian counterparts last week, and we continue to talk to our allies in Europe with the aim of advancing the EC’s position further.

There are signs of progress, but we still have some way to go. Obviously we need to do more to lock down the deal which, as I think is recognised by Members in all parts of the House, is fundamental if developing countries are to make the progress that we all want in order to achieve the millennium development goals.

Given that the Doha development round was always meant to be about development, does the Minister not feel that there is a marked lack of urgency and vigour in the way in which the negotiations are being pursued? Why does he not inject some momentum by pushing the European Union to offer—in addition to cuts in agricultural protectionism—complete duty-free and quota-free access to European markets for manufactured goods? Apart from benefiting European consumers, would that not help countries such as India, which, after all, contains more poor people than the whole of Africa put together?

As I have said in answers to earlier questions, I welcome the renewed round of constructive discussions with the United States. Until that development, we were blocked from achieving the outcome that we all want, but now we are seeing progress towards agreement in the negotiations.

I acknowledge the truth of the hon. Gentleman’s comment that the European Commission and EU member states need to give ground. We are continuing to work with allies across Europe to encourage the Trade Commissioner to do just that. We all recognise that more progress is needed. The Government do have a sense of urgency: this is a priority for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and for other Ministers. We will continue to do all that we can to ensure progress in the negotiations.