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Lomé Convention

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 9 February 1999

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2.54 p.m.

What issues have become the most significant in the current renegotiation of the Lomé Agreement between the European Union and the ACP states; and what are their priority objectives for the outcome of those negotiations.

My Lords, the renegotiation of the Lomé Convention began in Brussels on 30th September 1998 and must be completed by February 2000. It remains, therefore, at a preliminary stage with all parties still exploring each others' positions. The European Union's priority objectives are poverty eradication and the integration of the ACP states into the world economy. Issues that are likely to prove significant include the future trade arrangements provided by the convention and ways in which European Community development co-operation can be made more effective.

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for her reply, does she agree that if poverty eradication is an objective it is, to say the least, disappointing that the Commission's Agenda 2000 and the financial perspectives for the years 2000 to 2006, far from targeting the poorest countries of the world, target middle income countries? Will this issue be addressed n the negotiations and the needs of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, for example, be reasserted? Further, can my noble friend assure the House that in these negotiations the Commission's preoccupation with free trade agreements will be challenged? As the Commission's own evidence indicates that these are usually unfeasible and not very helpful, does not the real challenge remain to enable the poorest countries of the world to begin participating in a meaningful way in the world economy?

My Lords, I believe that the questions raised by Agenda 2000 are largely matters of internal reform. My noble friend is concerned about the position of the European Union in regard to aid. I remind my noble friend that the European Union wants to rationalise and simplify aid instruments in order more effectively to encourage economic growth and to reduce the dependency culture. It is enormously important that there is sustainable development in the programme that we put forward and that the ACP countries can expect more advanced notice of the resources that they will receive to help them in turn with forward planning. My noble friend is worried about the free trade areas. The free trade areas will be introduced after a roll-over period of five years under the World Trade Organisation waiver. But I stress to my noble friend that impact assessment reports on the free trade areas are currently being studied by the European Union.

My Lords, while I welcome the observations of the Minister about trade in the post-Lomé negotiations, can she enlarge on what role she sees private enterprise playing in this development?

My Lords, the European Union position in the Lomé discussions is concerned with industrial development and ways in which ACP countries' trade can be encouraged. The questions involve not only industrial development but structural reform programmes. There is also concentration upon the contribution that the private sector can make to development in those countries. Based on my own experience, I believe that Her Majesty's Government have made a very great effort in regard to private sector investment in the countries of the Caribbean.

My Lords, is it not a fact that the Secretary of State for International Development has raised very serious doubts about whether the British aid contribution, a third of which is administered by the European Union, is properly directed? Does my noble friend agree that much of that money goes to relatively rich countries while poorer countries, particularly those in Africa, do not get the support that they need and deserve if we are to bring them properly into the world community?

My Lords, it is concerns such as those voiced by my noble friend and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development that have led the European Union to support the target of halving the proportion of people who live in extreme poverty by the year 2015. European Development Fund projects have a very important part to play in achieving that aim. My noble friend's point is well taken, not only by my right honourable friend, who has managed to persuade our European partners that they should also be looking at this question, as they are.

My Lords, what part is played in the negotiations by the development needs of the Caribbean banana producers?

My Lords, we have been discussing for the past 18 months or so, at virtually every level of government, the needs of the Caribbean banana producers. As we know, the needs of those banana producers have taken something of a blow in recent weeks. I am glad to report that since we last discussed the issue in your Lordships' House the WTO agreed on 29th January that we shall have a further month of negotiations. It is an enormously important issue. There was some consensus in your Lordships' House that if the banana producing countries of the Caribbean are not allowed to continue with that legitimate trade, the temptation to diversify into some forms of illegitimate trade may become very great.

My Lords, I agree totally with the Minister. Given the close link between CAP reform and trade proposals for the new convention, what assessment have the Government made of the impact of such reform on the economies of the ACP states? What steps are they taking to ensure that the European Union faces the consequences of its agricultural policy for the ACPs?

My Lords, those are questions which were dealt with when drawing up the position of the European Union for the Lomé discussions. They were considered before the negotiating mandate was arrived at. The negotiating mandate has now been published and the negotiations are going forward. So those points were taken into consideration in getting the European position together before the negotiations with the Lomé countries began towards the end of last year.