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Eec Preferences On Agricultural Products

Volume 414: debated on Wednesday 29 October 1980

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2.48 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will undertake to press in the Council of Ministers for wider agricultural product coverage in the EEC's Generalised Scheme of Tariff Preferences in 1981 than that currently proposed by the Commission.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government consider that the Commission proposals for improvements in the agricultural sector of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences do not go far enough. In the current round of negotiations at working level in Brussels, we, in common with Germany and the Netherlands, have submitted proposals for further concessions, aimed in particular at benefiting the poorest and least developed countries.

My Lords, in welcoming very much my noble friend's reply, may I ask him to confirm that the Commission intends that no agricultural product included in the proposed GSP product list will be dropped in the five-year period, 1981 to 1985? Will my noble friend press for an assurance that during that comparatively long period products can be added to the list? I have in mind those from the least developed countries in particular; for example, Pakistan rice. Will my noble friend also press for an assurance that the common interests of the least developed countries and the consumers in the Community will be fully taken into account, in the light of what Commissioner Haferkamp has described as this very complex and delicate balancing exercise?

It is indeed a complex and delicate exercise, my Lords, and, if I may say so, that was a rather complex supplementary; but I can give my noble friend the assurances for which he asks.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the Government consider that it would be desirable eventually to introduce a system of complete graduation from the scheme for very competitive countries in particular products, which, on the whole, was the view taken by your Lordships' subcommittee which studied this question?

My Lords, did not fully grasp the gist of the noble Lord's supplementary question, but certainly the position needs to be kept under continuous review and the problems arising from competitive countries, as the noble Lord put it, is certainly one that we need to look into.

My Lords, is it the Government's view that the Commission's GSP proposals for 1981 for industrial products would be more or less than those in the present scheme?

My Lords, the effect of the proposals would be to tighten up the scheme against the better off and more competitive beneficiary countries, but, overall, a new scheme would be more liberal.