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Africa

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:17 pm on 30th March 2009.

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Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden 6:17 pm, 30th March 2009

It is a privilege to follow Mr. Mullin, who is a distinguished former Africa Minister. His stature in Africa raised him considerably above the foothills, if I may give his book a plug. He, Andrew Stunell and Mr. Clarke all expressed the concern, which I share, that Governments may resile from or let slip their commitments on aid or debt relief. He and others emphasised the importance of peacekeeping and help on that front. However, I wish to focus exclusively on the importance of trade for Africa.

Trade has been the route taken by the most successful developing countries in moving from poverty to prosperity. Korea and China in Asia and Brazil in Latin America, have shown that it is possible to trade out of poverty. That will ultimately be the route that Africa will have to follow. However, it is harder for the late starters to do that, because they have to compete with those ahead of them, who have already accumulated a critical industrial mass and the economies of agglomeration that go with it, yet still have low incomes and pay rates to compete with. Moreover, the poorest countries, the majority of which are in Africa, are poor because they typically face the greatest natural obstacles—lack of natural ports and navigable rivers, and a shortage of roads, railways and so on to get to market. It is therefore intolerable that we in the rich world add to those problems by retaining tariffs, quotas, subsidies and rules, which make it even more difficult for them to export their goods, enter our markets and trade out of poverty.

That is why, last week, four distinguished Members of ParliamentClare Short, a former Secretary of State for International Development; Sir Menzies Campbell, a long-standing spokesman and former leader of the Liberal Democrat party; John Battle, a former trade and Foreign Office Minister; and Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, the recipient of a UNICEF award for his contribution to solutions for Africa's children, as well as my humble self, a one-time development economist and subsequently trade Minister—launched a campaign to help the poorest countries, mostly in Africa, to trade out of poverty. Trade Out of Poverty is the name of the campaign and the all-party group, which we formed—I urge hon. Members to support it. We may be unlikely bedfellows, but we are united in a common commitment to bring to trade the same passion to mobilise public support as Make Poverty History brought to aid and Drop the Debt brought to debt relief.

We began by writing to the leaders of the G20, asking them to put Trade Out of Poverty on the agenda and to urge their countries, severally or collectively, unconditionally to open their markets to all the poorest countries, simplify their trade rules, end subsidies that hit the exports and trade of the poorest countries, help poor countries replace the high tariffs that they impose on each other with other sources of revenue, and invest in the physical and organisational infrastructure that those countries need if they are to take advantage of the opportunities that opening up our markets will give them.

It might seem quixotic to choose this conjuncture, when the developed world is suffering genuine pain, and the recession and the credit crunch have meant a revival of protectionism. Indeed, the World Trade Organisation has joined the World Bank in pointing out that countries have already begun surreptitiously to introduce protectionist measures. No fewer than 17 of the G20 countries have, since the last meeting of the G20, at which they unanimously endorsed a commitment to withstand the pressures of protectionism, introduced measures designed to undermine trade and protect their domestic markets. However, we know that in the 1930s, protection, far from helping countries recover, prolonged and deepened the slump. The poorest countries, then as always, suffered most from that prolonged recession. It is therefore even more important that we in the rich countries turn the tide against protectionism by opening our markets more liberally to the poorest countries of the world, especially the countries of Africa.

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