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European Standing Committee C Debates

World Trade Organisations Millennium Round

European Standing Committee C

Monday 22 November 1999

[Mrs. Marion Roe in the Chair]

World Trade Organisation Millennium Round

4.30 pm

The Minister of State for Trade (Mr. Richard Caborn): Thank you, Mrs. Roe, for taking this matter seriously and allowing us to have this debate. I should explain that I am not used to the procedure in this Committee.

Although most people are well informed about next week's round of negotiations in Seattle, it will be useful to update the Committee so that it is au fait with what is going on. The Government believe that we have a tremendous opportunity to move towards trade liberalisation, open markets and the removal of trade barriers. That is the object of the exercise. We want to expand globally the technological age to create more jobs and opportunities, in particular in the developing world. It is important to support Mike Moore, Director General of the World Trade Organisation, who has emphasised that the organisation should be open and rules based, with a distinct procedure that is accepted and followed by all its 134 members.

It is clear from newspaper articles and representations that a number of non-governmental organisations are critical of the WTO's role and the move towards trade liberalisation. They are worried about the effects that that will have on labour and the environment. I give an absolute assurance that our approach to the WTO is the same as our approach to other organisations in the international arena. In our negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, led by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and strongly supported by the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, we aim to lift and restructure the debt burden that is placed on developing countries so that they can become a more effective part of the family of trading nations. Our approach to the European Union-South Africa trade agreement is also important because it shows our commitment to the liberalisation of trade. Managing that liberalisation is an important development in the globalisation of trade. We also have a significant role in the EU to move forward the comprehensive agenda that we hope will evolve in Seattle. We want to ensure that we free up trade, and that capacity building and facilitation of developing countries is taken seriously so that they are equal partners.

Although a major part of our work has taken place within the EU, some of us were in South Africa last week with the Commonwealth to build the bridges that are necessary to address the concerns and fears that developing countries have as they move into the next round of the WTO negotiations in Seattle. Our connections in the Commonwealth have helped us to allay those fears and to show that we are genuine partners in our efforts to liberalise world trade through the WTO, which we believe could benefit developing countries. We also have connections with the United States which has found it difficult to accept a comprehensive round of negotiations in Seattle. Nevertheless, we shall make strong representations. On every international front-the United Kingdom's relationship with the United States, with the Commonwealth and with the EU-we played a positive and significant role in drawing up a comprehensive agenda to be followed at Seattle that will address the concerns and fears of all the countries to which I referred.

There must be a political will, not only to set a comprehensive agenda but to deliver that agenda within three years. That target is achievable. We do not want such lengthy procrastination as followed the Uruguay round. We want to ensure that decisions are made-as they should be-within three years and we want to bring certainty to trading patterns around the world. Such a political will should exist in Seattle, and it should continue so that the timetable may be concluded in three years.

For the World Trade Organisation-probably one of the newer organisations in the international arena-to be taken seriously, it must address the trade issues within a reasonable period. If it does that, it may be given the credibility to stand alongside the World bank, the International Monetary Fund and the other international institutions that facilitate orderly conduct in the global marketplace.

We are not keen on what has happened today in Geneva regarding bureaucrats. There will be much for politicians to sign at Seattle-probably more than there would have been had there been greater agreement at Geneva. However, we can proceed effectively next week in Seattle.

We must be sure of the process as well as the substance. Some rules must be strengthened and modernised and the organisation must be strongly based on rules. It must also have a dispute procedure that is respected by all of its 134 members. With that, it can stand alongside those other international institutions.

We are pleased to note the strong possibility of China becoming a full member of the WTO. We hope that the deal between the United States and China on market access will pave the way for a sound deal between the EU and China. We can now proceed with that deal, and we hope that we can finish it rapidly so that we may welcome China to the WTO. That is important and, as everyone knows, the United Kingdom has supported China's entry on the right terms. Significant progress has been made and we hope that China will become the 135th member of the WTO.

Several hon. Members rose-

The Chairman: Order. We have until 5.30 pm for questions to the Minister. I remind members of the Committee that questions should be brief and asked one at a time. There is likely to be ample opportunity for all hon. Members to ask several questions.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): May I first apologise to you, Mrs. Roe, and to the Committee for my not having been in Committee when the Minister opened his remarks? I was delayed in another meeting and came here as quickly as I could.

What is the Minister's evaluation of the unfinished business from the Uruguay round, especially the commitment to liberalisation in the textile and clothing industry? Is that unfinished business a priority for the new talks that are about to begin?

Mr. Caborn: I do not want to pre-empt what will happen in Seattle-we have said that we want a comprehensive round. You are right, Mrs. Browning: there is unfinished business regarding textiles and other matters. We do not want the unpicking of agreements already put to bed under the Uruguay round. There is more work to be done on the operation of decisions made at Uruguay and on the procedures for implementing them.

We shall ensure that those areas are dealt with in the Seattle round. There are concerns and fears, especially in relation to the developing world, that must be addressed. Some of the decisions that were taken in the light of the Uruguay round, which have not been implemented in the way that they should have been, must be revisited. I stress that the implementation of those decisions-to which, I believe, the reference to unfinished business relates-is different from the actual decisions that were made at Uruguay, which we believe should now be carried out.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): I thank the Minister for his statement to the Committee. What detailed proposals does he have to assess the unfinished business in respect of concerns about environmental issues? How can he be sure that he can measure how we achieve sustainability as a result of the round that is just about to start in Seattle?

Mr. Caborn: We must be clear about what sort of animal the WTO is. It is a world trade organisation. Its purpose is not to resolve all the ills of the world. It must, however, have a relationship with other organisations, whether it be the IMF, the World bank, or the United Nations Environment Programme, which deals globally with the whole question of the environment. The development of multilateral environmental agreements is very important, and, where necessary, those agreements should relate to the rules of the WTO. The discussions must include consideration of those rules, as well as their relationship to multilateral environmental agreements. At the moment, there are about 200 multilateral environmental agreements, of which at least 20 incorporate trade-related issues. It is in all our interests-whether at Kyoto or Montreal-that those agreements are linked to the WTO and that there is an understanding, but neither takes precedence. It is all about the sustainability of our environment, which we put at the top of our agenda.

Several codes for assessing the environment have been internationally agreed, and we expect those codes to be used. It is in everyone's interests to ensure that the environment and our resources are treated in the most sustainable way. That is the intention, and it would be far better if there were a proper relationship between those who have responsibility for the environment and the WTO. We must ensure that the two are compatible.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Are there any aspects of the work of the WTO in the next three years on which Britain will stand on its own and not take the EU position? In other words, what areas can we, the United Kingdom, negotiate, and what decisions are we bound by, as members of the European Union?

Mr. Caborn: I will stand corrected on this, but my understanding is that we are now in a position of agreement with the EU. We exerted considerable influence on the final outcome in the EU in several areas, including the environment and labour issues. Also, Agenda 2000, which is based on the Uruguay round, deals with agriculture, and we have moved a considerable way towards ensuring that agriculture is on the agenda for Seattle in a positive way. There is no major area on which we depart from the European position, as it stands. I can hear Mr. Jack mumbling in the background, and if he wants to ask me a supplementary question, I am sure that you will allow him to do so, Mrs. Roe.

 
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