Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership Agreement Between the Members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and the European Community and Its Member States (The Cotonou Agreement)) Order 2001

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Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I, too, welcome you to your first chairmanship of a Standing Committee, Mr. Conway. I am sure that our proceedings will be conducted in good spirit, briefly and efficiently under your benign chairmanship.

The official Opposition have no serious concern about the order. We support the Cotonou agreement and agree with the Minister that much of its content is to be welcomed. I was delighted to hear the Minister acknowledge that a great deal of work needs to be done further to reform the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. We have pressed for such work for a very long time, and we hope that the Government will make greater efforts to speed up those necessary reforms.

We have, however, one or two specific worries on which I ask the Minister to comment. I was surprised to hear him applaud incorporation in the agreement of anti-corruption measures, given that, despite our repeated efforts, the Government have consistently failed to incorporate such measures in the International Development Bill, which the House will debate again tomorrow. I ask the Minister to comment on the inconsistency between his praise for article 33(2), which states,

    ``The Parties shall work together in the fight against bribery and corruption in all their societies'',

and on the Government's consistent refusal to accept amendments to the International Development Bill to introduce anti-corruption provisions.

As for the effect of trading arrangements on least-developed countries, I was again surprised to hear the Minister boast that it was wonderful that the everything but arms initiative had advanced the timing of certain proposals. He ought to be aware that the proposals have caused enormous concern in relation to sugar, particularly in the least developed countries of the Caribbean. Will the Minister comment on the serious worries expressed by a number of his right hon. and hon. Friends, including senior members of the Select Committee on International Development, at meetings before the summer recess? They were savagely critical of some of the EBA initiative's effects on the sugar trade. Many of the Minister's colleagues said that the proposals to which the Government intended to sign up could destroy the economies of several Caribbean islands. I hope that the Minister will refer to that issue.

Nevertheless, I do not want my comments to be interpreted as an overall criticism of this worthwhile agreement. The very important work of Baroness Chalker of Wallasey—the Minister rightly praised her work on Lome some 10 years ago—needs to be updated. There has been a great deal of cross-party agreement on the need to improve relations between the European Community and the ACP countries, and we hope that that work will continue. As long as the concerns that I have expressed are addressed—the need for major reform of the CAP and the CFP, the needs of Caribbean countries in relation to sugar, and issues such as the recent problem with bananas, which the Minister mentioned—the agreement will provide a worthwhile framework for future relations. I therefore do not oppose the order.

10.45 am

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I make you thrice welcome to the Chair, Mr. Conway. On behalf of the unofficial Opposition, I welcome the order and the agreement to which it refers.

The agreement shows the strength of the European Union as a negotiating bloc. I am in no doubt that if the ACP countries simply had bilateral agreements with individual nation states in Europe, their preferential treatment would not have been so defensible as it is in the context of a multilateral agreement between the EU as a bloc and various countries that have historic relationships with European Union member states.

The Minister referred to European aid programmes, which, as he rightly pointed out, are also an important development, alongside trade. Will he follow up the issue of the lower cash limit for accessing European aid programmes? That has been raised with me over Colombia, and I am sure that it applies equally in other countries. Some smaller groups involved in human rights feel that the infrastructure required to get into some of the aid programmes that the EU is rightly promoting presents too great a hurdle. I am sure that that is comparable to community groups in this country trying to access objective 1 or other European programmes. I hope that the Minister will examine that. It is important that we support grassroots groups that might not be looking for very much money and might not have the infrastructure of the larger, state-backed organisations, but want to be in on the programmes and might even do a better job than some of the other organisations.

On trading, there is a strong feeling that fair trade can help development, as the Minister pointed out, and the order seeks to bring it into play for a specific group of countries. Conversely, unfair trade can add to inequality. Although concerns about that have often been inappropriately or incoherently expressed in protests against the WTO, there is much validity in them. I find it regrettable that the actions of a few have often obscured the genuine concerns of the many. Some of my constituents went on protests as part of the Jubilee 2000 coalition and other groups and had to sit out when violence broke out. They were thus prevented from taking part in legitimate protest. Can the Minister assure us that the UK Government, in discussing both the future of the ACP countries and wider trade issues, will play an active role in Doha and respond to genuine concerns about our fellow human beings in developing countries?

I hope that the Minister's Department will want to take a role in consumer awareness. The banana dispute made people very aware of the concerns of the banana-producing Caribbean countries. However, they sometimes gain a distorted view of the market, and find it difficult to know who are the good guys and the bad guys. For example, Ecuador has a large number of local banana producers who feed money into the local economy—a good model for developing countries—but in other countries bananas are produced by a large, foreign-owned multinational that is clearly exploitative, so one might not want to purchase those bananas.

Banana producers range from the small producers in the Caribbean and in Latin American countries to the large multinational. Consumers must be given more help in ascertaining from whom they are buying bananas. Whatever trade agreements exist, and whatever the WTO rules, the consumer ultimately makes the decision and can express a preference for one country's produce. Bananas are one example; there are many others. I hope that the Minister's Department can assist consumers in exercising their purchasing power. That is a valid international development role.

My final point is about the quaintness of the procedure for making known the date on which the treaty comes into effect. It will be advertised in that well-known and widely-read publication, the London Gazette, which is also published in Edinburgh and Belfast. It seems curious, in a week in which the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is publishing a book on the constitutional settlement of the UK, that a treaty of this importance is still subject to a procedure whereby it is agreed through a statutory instrument, then advertised in non-mainstream publications.

I welcome the agreement and hope that the Minister and his colleagues are able to negotiate a soft landing for the ACP countries, which were worried a few years back that they would experience a hard landing as Lome came to an end and the World Trade Organisation reduced the advantages that they had enjoyed over time.

10.50 am

Hilary Benn: I shall first respond to the points raised by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). I thank him for supporting the order and the new convention on behalf of the official Opposition. That is very much in the spirit of the tradition of bipartisan support for the predecessors of Cotonou.

The hon. Gentleman and I are also at one on the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy. The present Government, the previous Labour Government and four previous Conservative Governments have grappled with the issue, both before and after the famous renegotiations of 1975 under the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. It is in the nature of our membership of the European Community that to achieve reform one has to persuade other member states to follow one's point of view. We must continue to work hard on that.

We will no doubt debate anti-corruption legislation further tomorrow on Second Reading of the International Development Bill. We are committed to legislate, and if the hon. Member for Surrey Heath watches this space he will find himself satisfied.

On sugar, the UK has been active in attempting to safeguard and promote Caribbean trade interests. We have been a prime supporter of the Caribbean regional negotiating machinery, which is the key body charged by the Caribbean community with representing the region's interests in the range of international trade negotiations taking place not only in the EU but in the World Trade Organisation. The UK was instrumental in obtaining extended transition periods for sugar and bananas, which are sensitive Caribbean products—as well as rice, which is also significant under the everything but arms initiative. That means that the Caribbean will not be faced with full tariff-free competition in the European market from other least-developed countries until 2006 for bananas and 2009 for sugar and rice. We are also providing technical support to the regional negotiating machinery, and the EU will seek other ways in which to provide assistance to economies that are particularly dependent on sugar.

Turning to the comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), I concur with what he said about infrastructure obstacles to obtaining access to EC support. Anyone who has ever contemplated, let alone attempted, filling in the forms and going through the procedures that are required will understand that it is necessary to simplify them not only to enable the EC to implement its decisions as quickly as possible but to ensure that the wider community—especially civil society—can participate. That is a feature of the development programmes that the Department for International Development undertakes in several countries; we encourage the development of civil societies that play an active role in their country to help promote development. Such programmes give a voice to the community, and in particular to the poor, which can put pressure on Governments to achieve change.

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