Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Renewable Energy

6. Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): What representations she has received from the Wood Panel Industries Federation on the Government's renewable energy policies. [116509]

The Minister for Energy and Construction (Mr. Brian Wilson): Representations from the Wood Panel Industries Federation have been received on the impact of the renewables obligation on the industry and, in particular, on the encouragement given under the obligation for the use of UK forestry material by co-firing power stations.

Mr. Atkinson : I thank the Minister for that reply, but he has not addressed the seriousness of the situation. Some 15,000 jobs in this important industry are threatened because these so-called green power stations will be able to outbid woodchip mills for the basic raw material that they need—woodchip, much of which comes from freshly felled trees. Surely the purpose of these power stations was to burn biomass produced by farmers on surplus acres, rather than to consume

5 Jun 2003 : Column 298

sustainable material that has a future in the furniture and kitchen manufacturing industries, and in the building trade.

Mr. Wilson: A review of the renewables obligation is under way, and account will be taken of the points made by the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, there is a further question, about an existing—perhaps I should say almost existing—biomass plant in Yorkshire, which I shall deal with a little later. By and large, the current problem is not an excessive number of biomass plants consuming all the United Kingdom's timber—on the contrary. However, it is clearly important that we get the balance right, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is offering grants for the growing of trees for specific use in biomass plants. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that full account will be taken of the points that he makes on the industry's behalf.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil): Does my hon. Friend accept that the rather relaxed tone that he adopts towards the DEFRA review is not in keeping with the time scale with which the timber processing industry is confronted? For example, 50 per cent. of the available timber in Scotland has been bought by a single power station on the back of substantial subsidies for renewable generation. There is every possibility that in the ensuing 12 months there will be insufficient timber to enable Scottish processing plants to continue. Will my hon. Friend therefore accede to the request, made to him by a number of colleagues on both sides of the House, to meet him to discuss this urgent matter as soon as possible? I wrote to him two weeks ago and I await a reply; I am anxious that I get one as soon as possible.

Mr. Wilson: The request for a meeting has yet to reach me, but I shall of course agree to one. I have never refused my hon. Friend—or, I think, any other Member of this House—a meeting, and I should be delighted to discuss this issue.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): We support the aspiration in the energy White Paper to increase the percentage of electricity generated from renewable power sources, as, of course, does the Renewable Power Association. Sadly, the RPA estimates that the Government will fail to meet their 2010 target of 10 per cent. generation from renewable sources—only some 7 per cent. will be so generated—and their 2020 target of 20 per cent. generation from renewable sources, with only some 12 per cent. being so generated. How do the Government answer this absolutely fundamental criticism of a central plank of their energy policy from those whom they expect to implement it?

Mr. Wilson: The Government will fail to meet these targets only if a number of conditions have not been met. One reason why they would not be met is if we remained almost exclusively dependent for our renewables targets on hydro and onshore wind—the only technologies that are contributing significantly at the moment. That is why we are backing biomass, photovoltaics and wave and tidal. We have to extend the range of technologies that can contribute. If we start from a defeatist point of view and say that we will not

5 Jun 2003 : Column 299

meet the targets, they will indeed not be met. They can and will be met only if we do a great deal to give substance to the words that we have committed ourselves to, and it is my job to make sure that that happens.

World Trade

7. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): What recent discussions she has had with the World Trade Organisation on the impact of international trade liberalisation on the relief of global poverty; and if she will make a statement. [116510]

8. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): What action she is taking to promote the interests of developing countries in the world trade round. [116511]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): I welcome the reaffirmation by G8 leaders earlier this week of their commitment to a successful conclusion of the Doha development round, which would bring significant benefits in trade to developing countries. That is why we are working so hard to make progress in the WTO talks. In addition to the visits that I have recently made to South Africa, India and Thailand, I have today accepted an invitation from Christian Aid to meet producers and farmers in central America, on our way to the WTO meeting in Cancun in September.

David Taylor: My right hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) said that current free trade orthodoxy is wrong in forcing poor countries to open up their markets to competition, and in reducing their Governments' protection of vulnerable industries. Does the Secretary of State agree with her predecessor that the World Trade Organisation rules of international trade are indeed stacked against poorer countries, in favour of fat-cat multinationals? Would not managed trade with a focus on poverty reduction be a better alternative? Why can the scales on ministerial eyes be removed only with a P45?

Ms Hewitt: Since I became Secretary of State I have said that it is essential that market opening in developing countries is phased to take account of their state of development, and that the liberalisation of markets is accompanied by effective regulation. We saw the effects of the lack of such regulation in the financial disasters in some developing countries a few years ago. However, I do not agree that subsidies and long-term protectionism are the way forward for developing countries. It is important that we in the developed world listen to the increasingly urgent pleas of developing country Governments themselves—and their producers—who want access to trade, and in particular to trade on free and fair terms with the developed countries. The developing countries would also benefit from reducing the tariff barriers that they put up against one another.

Mr. Chapman: The WTO is a rules-based organisation, and one of the key ways of helping developing countries is to provide capacity building to empower them to play by those rules. The most

5 Jun 2003 : Column 300

significant current issue is the EU agricultural meeting later this month. The fact is that the best thing that the EU could do is to reform the common agricultural policy, in particular by removing export subsidies that effectively prevent developing country farmers from accessing overseas markets. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that she will do all in her power to press the EU on that point?

Ms Hewitt: I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I have been working closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to that end. Our Government are the leaders in pressing for radical reform of the common agricultural policy across the European Union. Not only does the CAP cost the average European family of four an extra £475 a year on our food bills, but as my hon. Friend rightly says, it condemns farmers in the poorest countries of the world to absolute poverty. Commissioner Fischler's proposals on CAP reform provide an excellent opportunity to move that agenda forward, above all for the sake of producers in developing countries. I hope that the Agriculture Council will seize the opportunity and agree those proposals next week.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Will the Secretary of State tell us where she will be on Saturday 28 June? Will she be in her constituency, as I will, supporting trade justice day and her constituents who are making a real effort to draw to the Government's attention the failures of the world's developed community in that respect?

Ms Hewitt: Yes.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): Does the Secretary of State not accept that the liberalisation of agriculture is, as we have heard, a potentially double-edged sword for developing countries? The Government of the Philippines, for example, have argued that opening up markets to the large agribusiness conglomerates of the western world could undermine local food production systems in the developing countries.

Ms Hewitt: When I last met the Trade Minister for the Philippines, his main concern was to ensure access to European markets for their canned tuna exports. That was a major issue, as the hon. Gentleman may recall, at the discussions in Doha. The main issue is to ensure that the European Union and the United States stop preaching free trade abroad while practising protectionism at home. The WTO rules already permit "special and differential treatment", to use the jargon, so that developing countries can open their markets in an appropriate fashion. That is the way to proceed and, with the majority of WTO members being developing countries, that is how we can proceed, providing that we in the European Union and the United States face up to our own responsibilities

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): My right hon. Friend will know that protectionism is regarded nowadays by the international community not as a 13-letter word but as a four-letter word. How can we ensure that the same fate that befell Zambia, Haiti, Mali, Nepal and Peru

5 Jun 2003 : Column 301

does not befall other developing nations? What measures will the Government propose to avoid unfettered liberalisation happening too rapidly in those markets?

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Government have led the way in supporting investment in developing countries for trade-related capacity building, so that they can engage more effectively in the negotiations within the WTO, and also so that they can ensure that they put in place the necessary regulation to help them with a phased opening of their markets.

Of course, it is possible for developing countries to take advantage of greater trade and economic reform only if they also put in place the necessary reforms to their own systems of governance. That is an issue to which we direct much support and attention through our aid and development work.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I could not possibly be as unkind to the Secretary of State as the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) was. Given that protection and export subsidies in the agricultural sector of up to £1 billion a day now represent five times the level of international development assistance and are doing grave damage to the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, does she agree that it is now time—consistent with what she has said—for the developed world to stop being so selfish and to start to recognise that genuine free trade, subject to the normal checks and balances, is the greatest wealth-creating mechanism known to mankind and the best source of help for the most vulnerable people the world over?

Ms Hewitt: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Our experience in the European Union is a good example of how countries—six of them, initially—came out of the devastation at the end of the second world war, through a process of free and fair trade among them, to the prosperity that we enjoy today. It is simply not acceptable that we in the European Union subsidise our dairy farmers to the tune of $2 a day for every head of cattle in Europe, when more than 1 billion people in the developing world live on less than that amount. Nor is it acceptable that the United States continues to subsidise its cotton farmers by a total sum significantly greater than the economy of several poor African countries. That argument is being made with increasing force in both the developed and the developing world. The issue for the Agriculture Council next week, and for the US Administration, is whether we will produce significant measures that will meet the commitment that we made at Doha to reduce, with the aim of phasing out completely, the trade-distorting subsidies that we put on our agriculture exports.

Next Section

IndexHome Page