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World Trade Organisation: Doha Round

Volume 712: debated on Wednesday 8 July 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what efforts they are making to revive the Doha round of trade talks.

My Lords, the Government have worked hard towards and are fully committed to an ambitious, pro-development outcome to the Doha round. At the London summit, we secured renewed commitment from G20 leaders to concluding the Doha development agenda, based on progress made so far. We continue to work with the EU Trade Commissioner, other EU member states and WTO members to conclude the Doha round as early as possible through international meetings, particularly the G8 summit in L’Aquila this week, and through ongoing technical discussions in Geneva.

My Lords, I thank the Secretary of State for his Answer. With trade on the agenda at the G8 summit in L’Aquila in Italy, will the Prime Minister be pressing there for the resumption of the Doha round talks? As a former commissioner, the noble Lord is well acquainted with the details, so can he say whether HMG will at the G8 this week support the new emerging architecture of global powers resisting development, supported by India, China and Brazil?

My Lords, the Prime Minister most certainly will be pressing very hard for good, strong, positive conclusions at the G8 in favour of progress in the Doha round. Many of us have feared that in the Doha round there is a real risk of trade being put on to the second tier of global preoccupations, after international finance, regulatory changes to the banking system and climate change negotiations. All those things are important, but trade remains absolutely central to the growth of the global economy. A successfully negotiated world trade round would deliver a boost of something in the region of $150 billion a year to the global economy. We must of course in this context work very hard with countries such as China, India and Brazil. We have been doing so to date and we will continue to do so to enlist their full support for progressive moves in trade opening across the global economy.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the basic breakdown in the Doha round came because the United States refused to lower its extensive farm subsidies and India led a number of developing countries in sticking to proposals designed to safeguard the livelihoods of their poorest farmers? In the context of the Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, will the Minister expand on his meeting of 22 June with the relevant Indian Minister and indicate whether he got any commitment that India would withdraw its objection to a continuation of the Doha round?

My Lords, I had a positive meeting with the new Commerce Minister, Mr Anand Sharma, and I was encouraged by his constructive statements. The proximate reasons why the ministerial talks failed last year were that India wanted higher, more special safeguards for its agriculture and the United States wanted lower protection for both agriculture and industrial goods among developing countries. There is plenty of room and scope for those positions to converge and for agreement to be found between the two. Since then, of course, the make-up of both the Indian and American Governments has changed, which presents an important opportunity to take forward what has already been agreed and to resolve the outstanding issues. The British Government will use every opportunity, international and otherwise, to encourage the parties to do exactly that.

My Lords, will the Minister give the Government’s view on the idea that has surfaced recently in the US House of Representatives that there should be border taxes depending on the degree of commitment to an emissions control package in Copenhagen? Does he not think that, if that were pursued, it would drive a coach and horses through any chance of getting the Doha round resumed and that it is, in fact, the latest tool to come out of the protectionist toolbox?

My Lords, any such proposal needs to be treated with immense caution and circumspection. I would not be convinced that such a move would help any multilateral cause or negotiation currently under way.

My Lords, does the First Secretary of State and Lord President of the Council agree that, in a global recession, now more than ever is the time to champion a free and open trading system? Given all his experience in this area, what steps is he planning to take to give the process renewed impetus and to what timeline does he think that it is realistic to operate?

My Lords, we would welcome strong statements of commitment coming not only out of the G8 this week but also from the Pittsburgh G20 summit in September. Very strong marching orders should be given by heads of government to Trade Ministers to resume their ministerial negotiations at the earliest opportunity and to concentrate their minds on securing full agreement to the world trade round by 2010. The global economy certainly needs that shot in the arm and that increase in confidence. That is what all our own efforts will be dedicated to achieving.

My Lords, the Secretary of State mentioned climate change as another priority, but is it not part of the same priority? Climate change represents a huge challenge and will involve a massive aid package, as we heard in the White Paper on Monday. What is the Government’s thinking on climate change in relation to trade?

My Lords, the Copenhagen meeting at the end of the year is extremely important to enable progress to be made in uniting the world in its fight against climate change. Continued disagreement and breakdown in the world trade talks will do nothing to assist agreement at Copenhagen. We need all multilateral negotiations to be strengthened, because they will boost the confidence of the negotiating parties to renew their efforts to search for and find agreement in each of the different sets of negotiations. Those negotiations reinforce each other, which is why the British Government are committed to success in all of them.