WTO Negotiations (Doha Round)

Oral Answers to Questions — Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 7th May 2009.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 10:30 am, 7th May 2009

What steps the Government have taken to seek a successful outcome to the Doha round of World Trade Organisation negotiations.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Trade, Investment and Consumer Affairs) (also Department for International Development), The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

At the London Summit we secured renewed commitment from G20 leaders to concluding the round. Indeed, business groups from around the world, and in particular developing country Ministers continue to welcome the Government's strong support for a successful conclusion to the round as early as is possible.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

No, the Minister did not secure that commitment. The G20 communiqué says that the G20 is

"committed to building on the progress already made".

That language is even more flaccid than that used by the G20 in its communiqué on the Washington G20 meeting last November. We are moving backwards. Given that everyone reckons that if we could have a successful conclusion to the Doha development round it would be worth about $150 billion to the global economy each year, what are the UK Government doing to help kick-start the Doha development round and to reach a conclusion rather than going backwards?

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Trade, Investment and Consumer Affairs) (also Department for International Development), The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, not least because of his stint as Chair of the Select Committee on International Development, but with all due respect to him I think that his analysis of the situation is wrong. There has been a commitment to build on the progress that we made in July last year, when Pascal Lamy said that we were some 75 per cent. of the way towards a deal. We have begun the process of engaging with the Obama Administration. Indeed, the G20 summit was the first opportunity to do that. We are obviously waiting to see the outcome of the Indian elections, because India is also a key partner in making progress towards securing agreement on the rest of the round. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to see progress in that round. There are huge potential benefits if we can reach agreement, and that is why the Government remain a strong supporter of completing the round and making progress as soon as we can.

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Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Labour, Leicester West

I welcome my hon. Friend's reference to the Indian elections. Will he ensure that as soon as the elections are concluded and a new Indian Government are in place, the British Government will do everything possible to work with that Government, both to remove the remaining obstacles to the Doha round and to ensure a successful agreement on the proposed India-European Union trade agreement?

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B

I guess she had to make some intervention, if only to show commitment to her constituents. Does she really know the details of the Doha talks?

Submitted by Brendan Taggart

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Trade, Investment and Consumer Affairs) (also Department for International Development), The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to re-emphasise India's importance to the Doha round. From her own contacts with this issue in the past, she will be aware of the huge importance that British business attaches to engaging successfully with India through the EU-India free trade agreement. We will, of course, have further discussions with the Indian Government once the elections have been concluded. Indeed, we look forward to a series of discussions with other member states, through international gatherings such as the forthcoming round of G8 meetings.

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Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Business and Enterprise Committee, Chair, Business and Enterprise Committee

It is, of course, a cause of great disappointment that the Doha round is making such slow progress, but we need to recognise that simply joining the WTO and following its rules can have a dramatic impact on individual countries. I am thinking in particular of Saudi Arabia, from where my Committee has just returned. That impact is not always lost on British business, which is doing very well in Saudi Arabia, but the challenge is to find the resources in UK Trade and Investment to support that effort. We are concerned about that, so will the Minister look at UKTI's resources in countries such as Saudi Arabia, which are opening their markets rapidly through WTO membership?

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Trade, Investment and Consumer Affairs) (also Department for International Development), The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for encouraging countries that are not WTO members to join the organisation, and I also welcome his strong support for UKTI's work. I hope that the Opposition Front-Bench team continues to listen to him: he may not have noticed it, but further support for UKTI was announced in the Budget, and he might want to encourage his party to endorse that part of the Budget as well.

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Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed Labour, Loughborough

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that progress has been tremendously slow, but that is understandable given that we are trying to get several largely competing vested interests to work in the same direction. He mentioned the Obama Administration, but can he tell us what progress is being made on cotton, for example? The previous US Administration resisted making concessions on that, so might not a change in Administration make a significant difference for some of the poorest countries in the world?

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Trade, Investment and Consumer Affairs) (also Department for International Development), The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

My hon. Friend is right to underline the importance of securing movement from the US on cotton subsidies. Cotton represents a huge potential opportunity for Mali, Burkina Fasso and some of the other poorest developing countries in the world to sell goods into markets in the rich developed countries such as the US and the EU. We need the Obama Administration to move on the issue, and we therefore welcome President Obama's support for the strong language agreed in the text of the G20 communiqué. We also welcome the further positive noises that his trade representative, Ron Kirk, has been making in recent days.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

The question from my hon. Friend Tony Baldry got to the heart of the matter. A successful conclusion of the Doha round of WTO talks would increase world trade by $150 billion, and the new US trade representative, Ron Kirk, has made the positive comment that we should

"embrace this once-in-a-generation opportunity to forge a strong framework for the future of global trade."

Even so, creeping protectionism is returning to Europe in respect of cars, milk subsidies, steel wire and candles. What positive action can the British Government take to support our American friends and the Obama Administration, and what can they do to take a lead in Europe against that creeping protectionism?

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Minister of State (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) (Trade, Investment and Consumer Affairs) (also Department for International Development), The Minister of State, Department for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

The Government are concerned about the possibility of the creeping protectionism that the hon. Gentleman described, which is one reason why we sought to use the G20 summit to secure agreement that the WTO would monitor what is happening in respect of possible protectionist measures. It will publish quarterly reports on the matter, and so hold a spotlight on what countries are doing.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and the whole House will welcome the fact that there has not been a wholesale uptake of new protectionist measures. Indeed, there has been a reduction in some of those measures, most notably in Indonesia and Argentina recently. Most significantly of all, however, the Obama Administration drew back from endorsing a very crude "Buy America" approach to Government procurement, and we warmly welcome that.

Finally, it is a little difficult to take lectures from the Opposition about working with colleagues in Europe, when they seem to have so few friends there—something that I am sure that Mr. Clarke, who leads for the Opposition on these matters, will acknowledge.

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