Belize

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 3rd March 2004.

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Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Labour, Vale of Clwyd 11:30 am, 3rd March 2004

What aid his Department has given to Belize in the past 10 years.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

The Department has provided more than £37 million to Belize in the past 10 years, supporting, for example, education programmes, public sector reform work and the police.

We have also provided debt relief of almost £3 million under the Commonwealth debt initiative, supporting conflict prevention work through the global conflict prevention pool in relation to the Belize-Guatemala border dispute, and have contributed further to Belize through our funding of multilateral organisations such as the United Nations and the European Commission.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Labour, Vale of Clwyd

I thank my hon. Friend for that positive response. He will be aware that we are currently in Fairtrade fortnight. What actions can he and his Department take to ensure that we can link the burgeoning fair trade movement in this country to primary producers in Belize?

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we have provided £225,000 to support cocoa farmers from the Toledo region of Belize, through the Toledo Cocoa Growers Association, to expand the production of their cocoa products and increase their exports overseas. Toledo being one of the poorest areas of Belize, I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that that is step in the right direction for the very poorest people in Belize.

More generally, I would like to place on the record my appreciation, and I am sure the appreciation of the whole House, of the work of the Fairtrade Foundation, and celebrate collectively the fact that the turnover of Fairtrade products in the UK is now about £100 million.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Conservative, North Dorset

Four years ago, the Government blocked more than £12.5 million of debt relief to Belize. I am pleased to hear from the Minister that some £3 million has been paid to date, but will he tell us when, under the Commonwealth debt initiative, Belize will receive the rest of the relief that it is due?

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

The hon. Gentleman may like to know that the most recent tranche of debt relief that I signed off in January this year—for next year and a further two years—was as a result of the reform programme taking place in Belize. I have had good discussions with Prime Minister Musa about the reform programme and I hope that he is satisfied with the progress made on debt relief write-off.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes Labour/Co-operative, Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

After my questions on Monday and Tuesday, I am tempted to aim for a hat trick of toadying, self-serving sycophancy by saying what a wonderful job the Minister is doing! No doubt, however, I would be accused by the sketchwriters of wanting to become Governor of Bermuda[Interruption.] What a good idea. Instead, I ask the Minister if he will talk to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about speeding up resolution of the border dispute between Belize and Guatemala, which is limiting the sort of development that is vital for the people of Belize.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his searching and robust questioning of the work of my Department. He will know that the new President of Guatemala has recently been confirmed in office, and that we are putting in £1.5 million of global conflict prevention money to help with the resolution of the Belize-Guatemala border dispute. We continue to work closely with the Foreign Office to help promote such resolution, but it is a matter that the two countries ultimately will have to resolve themselves. We will continue to support them in that process.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

It was from Belize 10 years ago that the first fair trade product, Maya Gold chocolate, came into the UK. Although it is good news that shoppers spend some £2 million on Fairtrade products each week, there is still some way to go. For example, only about 4 or 5 per cent. of bananas purchased are Fairtrade ones. Is not Fairtrade fortnight a good opportunity to make it clear that there is a modest way for every consumer to help farmers in developing countries by buying Fairtrade products such as cocoa, chocolate and bananas, whenever possible?

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that Fairtrade fortnight provides an excellent opportunity for us, as individual consumers, to do our individual bit to help promote fairer trade. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not be upset by my taking this opportunity to confirm that, by the end of 2003, shoppers were spending more than £2 million per week at the checkout on products with the Fairtrade mark. Furthermore, on Monday the Co-op, which has always been the leading supplier of Fairtrade products, pledged to double the size of its own brand range of such products by the end of this year. If other suppliers follow the Co-op's lead, we can expect the fair trade market to continue to grow, which is good news.