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General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

Oral Answers to Questions — Overseas Development – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd July 1996.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North 12:00 am, 22nd July 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what studies his Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the effects of the GATT on agriculture in the poorest countries. [36782]

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

In 1994, the Overseas Development Administration commissioned from the Overseas Development Institute a study on the impact of the GATT Uruguay round agreement on developing countries, including studying the effect on agriculture.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Would the Minister care to look carefully through the studies that his Department has produced and those conducted by Oxfam? Does he not recognise that, since the GATT agreement, there has been an increase in the export of cereals and other products from the EU and north America, heavily subsidised by taxpayers and often causing enormous ecological damage in both those areas, while farmers in third-world countries who do not enjoy such governmental support are being forced to compete with products whose prices they simply cannot match, and are therefore being pushed out of business? Is that not an example of GATT working in the interests of the richest producers in the richest countries, to the detriment of the poorest farmers in the poorest parts of the world?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

I believe that lowering trade barriers, making more efficient use of resources and protecting the environment go hand in hand. The best way to tackle major environmental problems is through multilateral agreements, not unilateral trade actions. The World Trade Organisation is considering whether any further clarification of that is needed in international trade rules, although internationally agreed safeguards are in place to help to deal with the problems to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. The decisions commit us to examine the impact of agricultural settlements on countries that are net importers of food and to take appropriate action.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood

Do not countless impartial studies demonstrate that the common agricultural policy of the European Union is extremely inimical to the interests of primary agricultural producing countries overseas and is a mechanism for their impoverishment? Would it not be a better use of taxpayers' money for Her Majesty's Government to announce to their partners at the intergovernmental conference that they intend not just to reform the CAP but to start its dismantlement by withdrawing?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

Although I agree with my hon. Friend that a reform of the CAP is necessary, I feel that the United Kingdom's membership of the EU helps to influence the Union, and I believe that our share of the EU's aid policy and our influence in it are desirable for poorer countries.

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eccles

Does the Minister agree that there must be coherence between our aid and trade policies, including GATT? Bearing in mind the recent visit of Nelson Mandela, his tribute to those British people who campaigned for his release and the Prime Minister's promise to support South Africa in its trade negotiations with the EU, what proposals do the Government have to ensure that development objectives are high on the negotiating agenda, and that a realistic long-term timetable for reform—covering at least 10 years, as has been requested—is introduced? Will he ensure that all sectors of the South African economy are considered—particularly the health, housing and education, sectors in which there is urgent need for investment?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

On behalf of the Government, I thank the hon. Lady for her years of service on the Opposition Front Bench. I thank her also for her constant courtesy and for her great dedication to the cause that we are discussing. She will be sadly missed. This may, of course, be my last time at the Dispatch Box also. We have yet to see.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

One never knows, John.

As to the main matter, the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lester) is quite right, and we must seriously consider these matters. The Overseas Development Institute's recent report on the effect of the Uruguay round on developing countries and agriculture discovered that exports from the Association of South-East Asian Nations countries and India were expected to gain from the reduction in tariffs in OECD and other developing countries. But African, Caribbean and Pacific countries—the least-developed countries—may lose the equivalent of approximately 2 per cent. of export earnings in the short term, due to increased crude import prices and the loss of marginal preference to other LDCs for certain goods. We are looking at the report, and we will certainly consider what she said, as it is extremely important.