Orders of the Day — Lomé Convention

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:32 am on 26th February 1991.

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Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 12:32 am, 26th February 1991

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Recently, he and I visited Geest's headquarters at Barry docks in my hon. Friend's constituency, when the concern of management and unions was made very clear to us. That source of employment at Barry docks is vital to the employment prospects of south Wales as a whole, which in the past 10 years has suffered very severely as a result of Government policies. Clearly, this is a matter of great concern to the whole of south Wales and, in particular, to my hon. Friend.

The arrival of 1992, the Gulf crisis, changing relations between the EC and eastern Europe, and the Uruguay round, may all have severe effects on ACP trade. The EC should be ready with structural measures to mitigate those effects. Such measures are not covered in Lomé IV, but I hope that action can still be taken to secure them before Lomé V.

Proposals tabled in the Uruguay round will erode trade preferences offered under Lomé in respect of ACP exports. For example, according to an UNCTAD study published last July, the EC-Uruguay offer on liberalisation of trade in tropical products would cut imports from sub-Saharan Africa by about $120 million, with trade being diverted to Latin America and the industrialised countries. Worse, the Uruguay round proposals present a threat which goes to the heart of ACP development, and directly contradicts Lomé principles.

The United States and the Economic Community are moving towards a deal on agriculture that would require the Governments of all developing countries to reduce their support for food producers. Protecting farmers leads to surplus and food mountains in the Economic Community, but in developing countries it can make the crucial difference between having enough to eat and going hungry.

Governments need to protect their farmers from food dumping and to encourage agricultural investment. With 29 million people in 25 sub-Saharan countries starving right now, surely no one can fail to see the importance of encouraging food security. How can the Economic Community talk in Lomé conventions of improving food security in ACP countries, and then support GATT proposals which would outlaw the very Government measures needed to achieve that security?

Instead of making a mockery of its own proclamations of concern, the Economic Community should observe the Uruguay round mandate, which recognises the right of developing countries to special and differential treatment. It should commit itself to GATT rules that outlaw dumping and, as the Common Agricultural Policy reform debate intensifies yet again, should seek to improve the very ACP interests of which it talks so earnestly in the Lomé convention. Unless the Economic Community takes on board those wider economic issues, Lomé cannot possibly pretend to be the catalyst for re-ordering north-south relations.

At last, proposals to write off debt owed by ACP to the Economic Community under Lomé are being discussed, but still the Community opts out of taking a stronger role on international debt initiatives. It has not even established a joint framework for bilateral debt reduction. Commissioner Marin's proposal to cancel Lomé debts—about 1 per cent. of total ACP debt—is modest but important. It is a logical extension of the decision to switch to grants in Lomé IV and of the bilateral action of member Governments. Lomé IV commits the Economic Community. to support ACP efforts to reverse the outflow of capital and contribute to the attenuation of debt burden. This is a good place to start.

What position do the Government take? The Minister will probably say that the matter was discussed, has been referred and will be discussed again, just as she said that in reply to several parliamentary questions last year. It is shameful that hon. Members have to rely on the grapevine which operates between Brussels and London, often via other cities and organisations, to discover that the Government have been opposing Commissioner Marin's proposals to write off debts owed by the ACP.

Will the Minister provide details today of every vote—every nod and shake of the head—by United Kingdom Ministers and officials, on 5 November at the Development Council, on 3 to 6 December and 18 December at the General Affairs Council, and on 28 January at ECOFIN? If the Government's policy is defensible, there should be nothing to hide.

That is just one example of the lack of information and accountability from which all EC development policies suffer. We should not only debate the Lomé convention in Parliament once every five years—we should also debate the other half of EC aid to non-ACP countries. We should consider the reforms of food aid that are so desperately needed, the absurdly small amounts of aid which go to Asia, where the majority of the world's poor live, the need to improve monitoring and evaluation and to focus EC aid on the poor—a need made all too clear by the Court of Auditors report of 12 December 1990 on EC aid to Bangladesh. The report concluded: The allocation of more than half a billion ECU between 1976 and 1988 to Bangladesh has largely failed to achieve the general Community aid objective of improving the conditions of the least favoured inhabitants of developing countries. The House will want to know as much as I do what action has been taken on that.

Clearly, the spirit of all EC aid—not only Lomé—needs to be revived. There is growing incompatibility between EC objectives relating to aid, trade, agriculture, central and eastern Europe, and the single market. Within Lomé IV, articles which give priority to long-term, self-reliant development compete with sections on short-term structural adjustment. The Lomé partnership is collapsing back into dominance and dependence.

The spirit of Lomé demands imagination and political will. The ACP states have seen the Community display those qualities in taking the lead in the reconstruction of central and eastern Europe. As a Senegalese delegate said during the Lomé negotiations, the Community has already promised $60 per head in aid to Poland and Hungary over the next two years, but will provide only $9 for each ACP citizen over the five yers of Lomé IV. The exact levels and terms of that aid may be disputed, but the political point is clear: Europe must reinvigorate and restate its commitment to development in the south.

Lomé IV has been described as the best that can be achieved in the present tight circumstances. That analysis may well be right, but it is no reason to be complacent. The challenge for both the EC and the ACP is to rebuild the spirit of co-operation between north and south to transform the very circumstances which constrained our co-operation and their long-term sustainable development.