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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

Had the proposals that we have been advocating been introduced, it would not be necessary to move away from the Cotonou agreement, which was unconditional, but which was also ruled to be inappropriate by the World Trade Organisation because it was with a selected bunch of friendly countries, rather than with an objective category of countries. Under WTO rules, it is possible to offer preferences only if they are offered to an objective category of countries. If the EU and others agree to offer preferences to all low-income countries, they will not have to require reciprocity or negotiate economic partnership agreements and they will still be able to do what my hon. Friend suggests with any aid received.

The reason why what we advocate is now possible is that previously the category of low-income countries included India. In real politics, there was no way that we were ever going to persuade Europe, America or Japan unilaterally to open their markets to a category of countries that included India, which, although poor, was seen as a major industrial power and a threat. India has happily moved into the ranks of middle-income countries. It is now conceivable—and I believe realistic—for us to open our markets unconditionally to the remaining poor countries of the world. That is what we advocate and why we advocate it now.

What is more, what we are proposing can be done immediately. It would not require us to wait for the Doha agreement, desirable though that would be. The Doha agreement is fundamentally an agreement between the middle-income countries and the rich countries and has little or nothing to offer the poorest countries. What we are advocating can be introduced immediately by the EU, the USA or others acting alone, without waiting for the slowest ship in the convoy. That is what we should do; it is also what I hope we will do.

If we do that, the potential for Africa will be significant. We should not be too pessimistic about Africa. Different continents may have different colours of skin, but we all have the same number of grey cells and the same desire to improve the lot of our families and ourselves. We all have the same capacity for enterprise. I have no doubt that, given the opportunity and access to markets, the African countries, where I have worked and travelled in my previous careers, will in due course march on the road out of poverty via trade as we advocate.

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