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. Allan: I have seen examples of programmes in which UK Government bilateral aid has allowed small groups in civil society to become engaged with the process. My concern is that we may exclude those smaller groups where we route large amounts of UK aid via an EU programme. Colombia, where we are signed up to a large development programme under the auspices of the EU, is a specific example of that problem. I hope that the Minister will realign the EU programme with the good practice in the bilateral programmes undertaken by the UK.

Hilary Benn: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. One benefit of the deconcentration process of delegating resources and responsibility to EC programmes is that it should become easier to form relationships with civil society. Our aid budget is increasing, which is a nice position for the UK to be in compared with the 1980s and 1990s. That gives DFID a greater opportunity to support civil society, which is the heart of our philosophy.

I much appreciate the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hallam about the role that trade can and does play in aiding development, especially in relation to the World Trade Organisation. It should not be a matter of argument that there should be an international, intergovernmental, rules-based trading system to determine the nature of trading relationships among sovereign states. That must be right. Some of those who come out on the streets and protest say, ``Away with the WTO'', but they are fundamentally misguided. At the end of the second world war, we established an international, rules-based, intergovernmental institution called the United Nations to regulate political, diplomatic and other relations between sovereign states. That principle must be right. The argument is about the rules and agreements under which that body operates. That will be a subject of lively debate at Doha at the end of this week, and rightly so.

We are playing an active part in responding to the legitimate point about the capacity of some developing countries to participate in the WTO process. One practical thing that we have done as a Department is to give financial support to those countries that cannot maintain permanent representation at the WTO. That will improve the capacity of those sovereign Governments to express their views and be involved in reaching an agreement through consensus, which is how the WTO operates, about what the world trading community wants to debate in future.

On consumer information, I endorse the remarks of the hon. Member for Hallam, which related to the issue of bananas. I recently met the Fairtrade Foundation, which, among other things, promotes fairly traded products. The latest product that it has added to its list is bananas, which are selling extremely well. We offer support to the fair trade movement, which is one practical way to make progress.

I hesitate to comment on the London Gazette, which is also published in Edinburgh and Belfast. I must confess to the Committee that it is not a publication that forms part of my regular reading. However, others who are much better qualified than me will be able to reassure the Committee that that is the way in which these things are done. These days, if we want to find out what is going on we rely on the media's reporting of developments—when the Cotonou agreement was signed it received a certain amount of publicity. I fear that our discussions today, interesting though they have been, will not necessarily figure in tomorrow's list of priorities for the media. However, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam made a fair point that is probably for others to pick up.

Another reason why the agreement is so important is that it reflects the development philosophy, which DFID has been developing and promoting in recent years, that has featured in exchanges in Committees such as this. Poverty reduction is the central goal, but other aims are included—the effective use of aid; good governance; the need for a stable macro-economic framework; the recognition that economic development and trade are good for developing countries. Most important, it clearly comes across in the opening parts of the Cotonou agreement that developing countries and ACP states must have ownership of process. This is about assisting countries in getting to where they want to go, not about our attempting to tell them where they should go. Philosophically, that is important; the best thing we can do to help developing countries is to support them in their future development. When one combines those elements with the power of the EU in particular, the agreement could become a powerful force for development. The Cotonou agreement marks a step along that journey and I commend the order to Committee.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the 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.

        Committee rose at Eleven o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Conway, Mr. Derek (Chairman)
Allan, Mr.
Benn, Hilary
Dobson, Mr.
Hawkins, Mr.
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr.
MacDonald, Mr.
Norris, Dan
Organ, Diana
Rosindell, Mr.
Stinchcombe, Mr.
Todd, Mr.
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Mr. Dennis

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Prepared 6 November 2001