My Lords, it is a great privilege and pleasure to be the first to congratulate my noble friend Lady Stedman-Scott on her first-class and heart-warming maiden speech. Given her family's political involvement in the past, which we now learn about, and her own background in volunteering, especially in relation to work with young people and employment services, most notably, as she has said, as chief executive of the Tomorrow's People Trust, my noble friend speaks with authority and has underlined the human element in a debate that up till now has concentrated rather on the dry economic facts. She brings a wealth of hands-on experience to enrich our debate today, and I feel sure that she will continue to do so on many occasions.
I turn to my own short contribution. I have listened with great interest to the well informed contributions from the many eminent speakers so far and accept that the main objective for the Government, as my noble friend Lord Lawson said at the outset, must be to eliminate the fiscal deficit. My own focus, however, will be on government policies to promote enterprise and growth in relation to trade. The CBI has emphasised the need to galvanise our export performance. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade, Innovation and Skills has explained how the Government intend to help small and medium-sized businesses to engage more in trade, and has pledged strongly to support efforts at both national and EU level to remove barriers to trade, particularly for SMEs. The recent White Paper, Trade and Investment for Growth, published a month ago, sets out the steps that the Government will use to achieve that. All this is good news so far as it goes.
However, I draw attention to a part of the world where these efforts will be well received. Latin America-I am glad that my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater made reference to its importance-provides a huge market of over 500 million people, from Mexico in the north, through the tropical countries of Central America and South America to Cape Horn on the rim of Antarctica. The combined GDP of Latin America is equal to China's. It is a region rich in resources-oil, gas, gold, silver, copper and, not least, agricultural products.
The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, called attention to all that potential in the debate that he introduced last June. Happily, the Government accepted the message. My right honourable friend William Hague acknowledged in his Canning lecture last November that not only does our country have a legacy of good will from the support given to the various independence movements 200 years ago in the days of George Canning but, over the centuries and years, British know-how, expertise and investment have gone into building railways, roads and banks, so there is a solid base on which to build.
The Foreign Secretary pointed out that at present UK exports to Latin America make up barely 1 per cent of all international exports to the region. He illustrated this by saying that we export more to Ireland than we do to the whole of Latin America. When I think of the efforts made over the years by a number of individuals and organisations to redress this balance, I am appalled. The Foreign Secretary, however, went on to say that in the past three years UK Trade and Investment has seen a 500 per cent increase in the number of British companies looking for help with the Brazilian market. Brazil, after all, is a leading BRIC, with a population alone of over 200 million.
What steps have been taken by the Government to promote this interest in Latin America, to make efforts to increase our trade with those countries and to meet the needs of SMEs? Furthermore, since trade and investment are not only bilateral but need a multilateral approach, what are the Government doing to press forward with the negotiations between the European Union and Mercosur, which comprises the southern-cone countries of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and with the negotiations between the EU and the Andean region, which comprises Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia? Those are countries with growth rates that most European countries must envy. What about the flourishing SICA countries of Central America? I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply and to listening to the remaining speakers on a considerable and prestigious list.