Fair Trade

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 25th May 2005.

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Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Deputy Chairman (Candidates), Conservative Party 11:30 am, 25th May 2005

What steps his Department is taking to seek the removal of trade restrictions on goods exported by developing countries.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

What measures the Government are taking to promote trade between the EU and developing countries.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

Through our G8 and EU presidencies, the Government are pushing for real progress in the World Trade Organisation round. Richer countries need to open their markets further, cut unfair subsidies and remove non-tariff barriers to trade, but market access is not enough: poorer countries also need additional aid, including help to build their capacity to trade. Yesterday's agreement by the EU to a new official development assistance target of 0.56 per cent. of gross national income by 2010, and 0.7 per cent. by 2015, with at least half the additional aid for Africa, was therefore very significant.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Deputy Chairman (Candidates), Conservative Party

Does the Secretary of State not think it a tragedy that so many exports from the developing world are being thwarted by wholly unfair trade barriers in both the United States of America and the European Union? Far too little is being done to change the situation. How will he ensure that those barriers are quickly broken down?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I agree completely—it is a tragedy. Such barriers are probably the single biggest obstacle to developing countries' efforts to improve the lives of their people. Earning and trading their way out of poverty is the route to improving people's lives. The framework agreement was reached at the end of July last year and we need the draft agreements to be in place by this summer. The priorities are clear: to end export subsidies—the Government are pressing for that to be done by 2010—and to improve market access. In addition, we must give developing countries time to adjust: not all can adapt to a more open and fairer trading system at the same pace.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

The World Bank has estimated that both rich and poor would benefit by billions in global income if trade barriers were to come down, so I welcome what the Minister has said. Should not the United Kingdom, as a member of the EU, be pushing both for reforms within the common agricultural policy, which has been devastating in the third world, and reform of the terms of the "Everything but Arms" agreement so that trade barriers fall and we can get free and fair trade with the developing world, and we all benefit?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

Indeed, we do need to do that. Pressing for reform of the CAP is something that the Government have been doing under both parties for a long time. That is why we have argued for getting rid of export subsidies, which would probably be the single most important step, and we have set a date. That is the argument that we will take into the discussions in the EU. The "Everything but Arms" initiative was an important step forward. We want the opportunity that it has opened up for the least developed countries to be made more widely available as part of an agreement in Hong Kong.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow North

I welcome the announcement yesterday by the EU of substantial increases in aid. Can my right hon. Friend indicate when those countries that have not yet set a timetable, such as Italy and Germany, intend to fulfil that commitment?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

Germany has set a timetable. My colleague, the German Development Minister, signed on the dotted line at an Oxfam event yesterday morning in Brussels for the date of 2014. That demonstrates that, with an increasing number of countries agreeing to set timetables, the momentum of support in providing more aid, better aid, debt relief and fairer trade opportunities is now growing. It puts us in a good position to go to the G8 summit at Gleneagles. Europe, which provides about 55 per cent. of global aid, is sending a clear message that I hope will be heard throughout the world.

P

Why on earth are countries such as Germany making African countries wait for nine years (2014!) before remedying the grossly unfair subsidy situation? How many poor African farmers and their families can afford to wait that long?

This whole situation is nothing short of immoral.
Peter Cooke

Submitted by Peter Cooke

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Labour, West Bromwich West

I, too, welcome the announcement yesterday by the EU in Dublin of aid to developing countries. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that that will not preclude added efforts to set up an international finance facility that, in the long run, will offer enormous scope to developing countries?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I am happy to offer my hon. Friend that reassurance. The international finance facility will be in addition to the commitments that EU member states entered into yesterday in Brussels. As my hon. Friend will know, we are pressing, first, for the pilot IFF scheme for immunisation and vaccination. We now have support not only from France but also from Sweden, and since the House last met, from Spain. That shows that states recognise that, as well as moving towards the 0.7 per cent. objective and achieving it by the dates that an increasing number of countries have set, we need to find ways of raising additional finance now, in this instance to save children's lives by vaccinating and immunising.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Does the Secretary of State accept that he and the Prime Minister have the full support of Members across the Chamber of all political parties for the noble aims that he has set out for the G8 summit and for the successful conclusion of the discussions yesterday in Brussels? Will he urge the Prime Minister to draw down some of the political capital that he has stored up with the American Administration and the White House to ensure that these important proposals are vigorously pursued and implemented single-mindedly?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I offer a warm and sincere welcome to the hon. Gentleman on taking up his new position. I look forward to working with him in this most rewarding of policy responsibilities.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about what we have achieved so far. As he will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is about to set off on a series of visits to talk to G8 colleagues. The agreement that we reached yesterday, which sent a clear message on behalf of the rich countries of Europe, will help in the discussions that take place. When we reach Gleneagles, the choice facing every country—the United States of America, Japan and Canada, for example—will simply be whether we do what we know needs to be done this year really to make a difference to the lives of billions of our fellow human beings.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the value of direct EU export subsidies for agricultural goods sold to Africa over the past five years is well in excess of £15 billion? Are not those immoral export subsidies an engine of impoverishment for the developing countries of Africa as well as a total waste of European taxpayers' money?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

They are indeed both those things. That is why we want to see an end to export subsidies and why we are arguing in the European Community for that end date to be 2010.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

Further to the questions from Andrew Mackay and Mr. Syms, can my right hon. Friend cast any light on the widespread reports last week that Mr. Peter Carl, an EU trade official, and Mr. Peter Mandelson are seeking to overturn the British Government's position on economic partnership agreements so as to prise open the markets of the developing world, whereas the Government's position is that they should have help to liberalise them at a sane and acceptable pace?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I read the story in The Guardian reporting the comments attributed to the Commission official to whom my hon. Friend refers. What the official wrote in that letter was wrong both about our policy and our motivation. We are clear that economic partnership agreements must be used to promote development. We are committed to that, which is why we have set out the policy that we have. It is a policy that we intend to pursue vigorously.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I welcome yesterday's announcement. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Make Poverty History campaign that African, Caribbean and Pacific countries must have the right to decide what to liberalise and when, and that they should be given the choice whether to sign up to economic partnership agreements or to another pro-development alternative?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position and extend the same hope that we can work together on this important area. Yes, I agree with him. In the end, it is for ACP countries to decide whether they wish to sign up to economic partnership agreements. They can have confidence about the choice that they will face if they see that there are alternatives if they do not like the deal on the table. From my conversations with Trade Ministers in developing countries, I know that they are clear that all is to play for on these agreements. They know what they want and I am sure that they will use their bargaining power to achieve it.