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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

That is one of the five points that we advocate and that I shall outline shortly.

We believe that we can take steps at little or no cost to us. The poorest countries have one fifth of the population of the world, but account for only a fiftieth of its trade. By no stretch of the imagination are their industries a threat to ours. On the contrary, they want and need to buy more of our goods. The only thing that restricts the amount of goods that they can buy from us is their ability to pay for them by exporting to us. It is a win-win situation if we open our markets to them.

We have spelled out five steps that the rich countries can and must take to help the poorest countries in Africa trade out of poverty. First, rich countries must unconditionally open their markets to all low-income countries. We do not need to require them to reciprocate. The poor countries are understandably reluctant to open their fragile industries to the full blast of competition from the developed world. They say that most rich countries used infant industry protection when they were developing, and so ask why they should not do likewise. Plenty of economists—I am normally among their number—dispute that case and argue that it is in the interests of poor countries to liberalise their markets. That is as may be, but we should not make the best the enemy of the good by saying that, because it is in their interests to open their markets, we will not open ours to them. If we want to persuade them to be more liberal in their trading policies, we should first set an example by opening our markets to them.

Of course, the European Union, like many developed countries, already offers unconditional free access to some countries. Under the Everything but Arms agreement, we allow tariff-free, quota-free access, but only to a list of the smallest and most vulnerable countries. In Africa, the agreement excludes most of the more populous countries, such as Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya. We should offer them, too, free access to our markets. Even when we have, in theory, opened our markets for specific goods by abolishing tariffs, complex and onerous rules of origin have rendered it largely ineffective.

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