EU-US Trade

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:28 pm on 22nd March 1999.

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Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Conservative, Charnwood 9:28 pm, 22nd March 1999

I shall not detain the House for longer than a couple of minutes. I begin by declaring an interest as a director of, and shareholder in, a clothing company that is not directly involved in the dispute that we are discussing. However, like virtually all modern clothing companies, it is actively involved in international trade.

This is an important debate. It has been occasioned by bananas and by the implications for the banana trade in the Caribbean and for our domestic cashmere industry of the actions that the Americans have taken as a result of the dispute. The significant point that the House should draw from the circumstances in which we find ourselves is the central importance, not only to the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe, but to poorer countries throughout the rest of the world, of following through the progressive liberalisation of trade that we have seen over the past half-century, since the end of the second world war.

The real debate this evening has been fascinating. It is the one that has taken place among the occupants of the Government Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) on the Opposition Front Bench and at least some Liberal Democrat Members. Liberal Democrats have argued the case for progressive liberalisation, while the forces that I think those on the Government Front Bench would recognise as old Labour, who are ranged behind them—at least they were—are still instinctively seeking to control, or to plan to safeguard, very proper concerns. Of course we are all anxious for living standards to be improved. Of course we should all be concerned to protect biodiversity and the environment.

Surely the history of the development of trade over the past half-century should persuade us that the best way of improving people's living standards, and of providing resources for reinvestment in the environment and other desirable social policy objectives—the best way of underwriting the improvement not only of standards of living, but of quality of life—is to create the wealth that allows those options to be open. The progressive liberalisation of trade makes that possible.

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Members for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) and for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) that the great gain that we have made in recent years is a decisive move towards rules-based trade. That is why the UK, every other member state of the European Union and the United States share essential national interests in strengthening rules-based trade, and in respecting judgments when they are handed down by the World Trade Organisation—the organisation that we have jointly set up to deliver that generality in the particular.