[Ann Winterton in the Chair] — Economic Partnership Agreements

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:45 pm on 8th June 2006.

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Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (International Development) 2:45 pm, 8th June 2006

I am grateful for the Minister's clarification, but it is interesting that not all EU countries in the new structure that must be brought on board are in agreement with what the Minister said about the Government's position. We agree with the Government's position and hope that the Minister and his colleagues will continue to try to persuade those in the EU who require persuading to follow the Government's position rather than their own agendas.

The Trade Commissioner said that there will be a new monitoring mechanism to oversee capacity-building, technical expertise and logistics projects that are part of the EPAs. Again, it would be helpful if the Minister could say when those monitoring mechanisms will be established, what sort of bodies will have an input, and whether they will be independent. Hopefully, the monitoring bodies will have significant input from the developing nations. How will the Government ensure that they identify areas where eradication of poverty has been hindered rather than helped by the issues that I mentioned earlier and about which the Trade Commissioner talked?

The Trade Commissioner also said that EPAs will include significant development aid and technical assistance both from the EU budget and individual member states. It would be helpful to know whether that is the case and, if so, what funds DFID intends to put into the EPA system for the development aid proposals. Will it be an increasing programme over a number of years—the thought process may still be going on—and what will be the time scale? Will it begin in 2008 and will it happen prior to the agreements being reached, if they are reached?

I want to explore one or two other areas and the first is asymmetric liberalisation. The EU has stated that the opening of ACP markets to EU goods and services will be on an asymmetric basis, which means that ACP countries will be able to open their markets to the EU at a slower rate than the EU will open their markets to ACP countries. How will that rate be decided and on what time scale will the markets be opened up? Does the Minister have a view on how that should be done? Will it be industry by industry, region by region or country by country?

Every country will have different industries that they want to benefit from the proposal. It will be an enormously complex challenge to reach an agreement between countries in a region and for them to agree on their relationship with the EU. Clearly, that must be evidence-based, but the original time scale is challenging. Five years from 2002 is the end of 2007, although I understand that the Trade Commissioner has said, ambitiously, that he wants agreement prior to that date, so that means the summer of 2007. It will be extremely challenging to get that agreement by then.

We recognise that "Everything but Arms" is a non-reciprocal agreement, unlike EPAs, but the two agreements affect many of the same countries and the EBA agreements cut across the EPA regions, offering countries within EPA regions different deals. Where have the thought processes got to in unravelling that complexity? The best explanation that I heard was the Trade Commissioner's describing the complexities as a Russian doll—when one layer is removed, another appears underneath. Does the Minister agree that EPAs and EBA agreements could cause conflict and confusion, or is there a strategy to try to unravel those two areas of trade negotiation and agreement?

The ACP countries must create the conditions in which a market economy can develop and thrive: the rule of law, stable Governments and the establishment of private property rights. In our view, EPAs hold great promise and could be extremely beneficial to the ACP countries involved. However, the success of EPAs depends on negotiating a fair deal that does not disadvantage developing nations and creates a system in which developing ACP nations have confidence. It is necessary to wrap up within the EPAs targeted aid aimed at building trade capacity and infrastructure, such as reliable energy sources, well maintained transport networks and increasing technical expertise. All are essential if the trade agreements are to work.

The Conservatives support the objectives of EPAs, but they must be used to help ACP countries access world markets while maintaining their individual developmental and economic priorities, especially facilitating and enabling inter-regional trade, which is one of the main areas that has not been focused on sufficiently to date.

Poverty around the world is at unacceptable levels. Nearly half the world's population live on less than a dollar a day, 1 billion people do not have access to clean water, 100 million children do not go to school, and 40 million people live with HIV/AIDS. All of us in the House have a moral duty to take action. Trade is the best means of alleviating poverty in a sustainable way in the developing world. If the Government lobby hard to ensure that the developing world gets the best deal from the proposed agreements, they will have our support.