Gatt

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 23rd November 1992.

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Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine President of the Board of Trade 3:30 pm, 23rd November 1992

It is sad that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who began by so warmly welcoming the important and positive aspects of my statement, characteristically sought to cloud the good news by trying to divert attention away from it. That is characteristic of the Opposition's mean-minded approach.

May I display my characteristic generosity and concentrate on the early parts of the hon. Gentleman's response. The position is not quite as simple as he suggested by implying that one needs only to start a trade war to achieve results. Two issues were involved and were running concurrently. One was the dispute between the Community and the United States over oilseeds, which had been the subject of continuing discussion in which the Americans believed that they had used all the appropriate means open to them to get redress. GATT panels found on their side twice, yet no progress had been made. In the end, GATT persuaded the Americans to take the steps that they took—dangerous steps, without a shadow of a doubt.

But that matter was coincidental with the negotiations proceeding towards a settlement of the areas outstanding in the present Uruguay round. Inevitably, the two matters became interrelated, and it is to the credit of those who negotiated a settlement that they took that extremely difficult issue and resolved both the matters satisfactorily.

The second issue about which the hon. Gentleman asked was the position of France. I have never tried to pretend—nobody could—that the French Government do not have problems with their agricultural interests. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that France relies on its agricultural economy perhaps only to the extent of 5 per cent. Therefore, for the overwhelming majority of French commercial and industrial interests, a successful conclusion of the GATT round is as much in the interests of France as the rest of the world.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I was confident that, under the renewed GATT procedures, we shall be able to make progress. I can only hope that that is so, and I wish those responsible every good fortune. Everybody knows that the rest of the world has had to stand apart while the disputes between America and the Community have been resolved. They are now back in the picture and will have their own views and self-interests. But they will appreciate, as did the hon. Gentleman, that the fast-track opportunity in the United States expires on 2 March and that it is, therefore, to everybody's interest to get within that arrangement—not to consider extending it, as the hon. Gentleman said, but to take advantage of the existing window that is now open in the American procedures.

No one should understate the dramatic opportunity for the whole world, particularly the less-developed world, of a successful outcome of the sixth Uruguay round.