Second Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation
Tuesday 20 May 2003
[Mr. Alan Hurst in the Chair]
Draft European Communities
(Definition of Treaties) (Euro-Mediterranean Agreement establishing an Association between the European Communities and their Member States and the Arab Republic of Egypt)
Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Euro-Mediterranean Agreement establishing an Association between the European Communities and their Member States and the Arab Republic of Egypt) Order 2003.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Agreement establishing an association between the European Community and its Member States and the Republic of Chile) Order 2003.
Mr. Caplin: I convey to the Committee the apologies of my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, who cannot be with us because he is on Government business today. I thank the hon. Members for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) and for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) for their co-operation in allowing today's debate to continue.
The importance to the United Kingdom and the European Union of stability in the middle east has rarely been more apparent or acute. Today we have an opportunity to take an important step in promoting that stability.
The association agreement with Egypt aims to promote economic and social development in Egypt. It creates a partnership, underpinned by an ongoing, wide-ranging dialogue and cemented through increased trade liberalisation. It envisages co-operation on a spectrum of issues of mutual concern ranging from tourism to terrorism and from immigration to investment.
The agreement supports United Kingdom interests in a variety of ways. It will continue to encourage economic and political reform in the Arab world's most populous nation, providing a key plank in the UK's policy to promote reform throughout the Arab world. It creates opportunities for increased UK exports through the progressive reduction of Egyptian tariffs on EU industrial products and increased agricultural liberalisation. That dovetails with our wider aim of promoting global trade liberalisation and economic integration. Equally important, the agreement gives the UK new means for promoting human rights in Egypt through regular dialogue and, ultimately, the sanction of suspending the agreement due to human rights violations.
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The agreement forms part of a broader relationship between the European Union and 12 Mediterranean countries known as the Euro-Med Partnership. This new chapter in EU-Mediterranean relations was opened in Barcelona in 1995 and continues to grow and develop. Its overarching goal is to ensure peace, stability and security in the Mediterranean region. To that end, it aims to create a Euro-Med free trade area by 2010. Combining an enlarged EU of 25 countries with our Mediterranean partners will create one of the world's largest trading blocs.
Association agreements are the main instrument for achieving that target. Agreements similar to that before the Committee today have already been signed with Tunisia, Israel, Morocco, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Algeria and Lebanon. The first four agreements have been ratified and are in force. An agreement with Syria is currently being negotiated.
Egypt shares the UK and EU aims of promoting regional stability and prosperity through dialogue, co-operation and trade. Its association agreement was signed on 25 June 2001 but, until the agreement has been ratified by all parties, Egypt will not enjoy its benefits.
Today, four member states—France, Germany, Sweden and Ireland—have ratified the agreement. A further three member states will ratify it in a matter of weeks, including, I hope, the United Kingdom. Significantly, Egypt ratified the agreement last month.
This is an important agreement, which supports key long-term UK, EU and Egyptian objectives. I commend its ratification, and the motion, to the Committee.
I shall now introduce the order on the European Union-Chile association agreement. It takes the previous agreements negotiated in the 1990s to a new level. It shows that we can bring the EU and Chile together to agree an updated set of commitments and look for ways in which our relationship can deliver more benefits for us all. The agreement represents the next step in our ongoing attempts to strengthen the EU's relations with Latin America, following the lead taken on Mexico in 2000 and preceding a similar agreement currently nearing completion with Mercosur.
Chile is one of the most stable emerging markets in the world, which is due in no small part to its decision to participate fully in world trade. It is a strong commitment to free trade that has allowed the EU and Chile to come together to design and implement an agreement that gives the most benefit to both parties. There are other dimensions to the relationship. Through mutual co-operation, the agreement will build and strengthen institutions and help to reinforce and support democratic principles, the rule of law and good governance. We must support and encourage those in a maturing democracy such as Chile. The EU can share its experience and expertise in a wide number of spheres, including technical, trade and economic spheres. We can also help to build social cohesion and to fight poverty, marginalisation and exclusion where they occur.
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The EU-Chile agreement is one of the most liberal of all the EU's trade agreements, and now provides a model that other agreements could follow. It liberalises more than 90 per cent. of all goods that will be traded between the EU and Chile during the next 10 years. Specifically, it delivers tariff-free access for all industrial goods, measures from which UK exporters stand to benefit greatly. The gains from dismantling trade barriers will continue to accrue to firms year after year, giving a sustainable boost to growth and prosperity. Those benefits have already come on stream, as both sides agreed that they should start on 1 February 2003.
On top of tariff reductions, the agreement establishes for the first time preliminary rules governing investment, competition and Government procurement, in line with the UK objectives in the World Trade Organisation round. We have also agreed a wines and spirits agreement to bring in more Chilean wine at cheaper prices and allow us to export even bigger quantities of our spirits, particularly Scotch whisky.
Turning to the political elements of the agreement, we can see the benefits of an ongoing open dialogue on world events. The agreement commits the EU and Chile to regular meetings at various levels, including at Heads of Government and ministerial level. Those meetings will allow us to exchange views on a wide range of matters and to find areas of mutual agreement, where we might work together to achieve a common aim. Subjects specified in the agreement include fighting terrorism, international crime and the trafficking of illegal drugs. Dialogue has already begun. By way of the UK's commitment to the process, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), participated in the inaugural association council established under this agreement in Athens this March.
The agreement commits us, the EU, to work with Chile in other ways. Hon. Members will know that technical assistance and co-operation is something that the EU does well. This agreement builds on existing co-operation, helping to cement the links between policy makers, public administration and civil society. It covers economic, social, environmental and cultural interests, among others.
As a result of this Order in Council, the UK will be among the first member states to ratify the agreement. That sends a strong and clear signal of the UK's close relationship with Chile and the importance that we attach to it. I ask the Committee to support those important objectives by approving the principles behind the agreement. I commend both orders to the Committee.
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): What a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr. Hurst. I thank the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin) for setting out the basis for the orders that we shall consider this afternoon. I perfectly understand the pressures on the Minister for Europe, and I am happy
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to release him. The Government currently need all the help they can get on matters European.
With your permission, Mr. Hurst, may I deal with the question of the association agreement between the European Union and Chile first? It is a welcome step in lowering trade barriers and improving ties across the world. Chile is a particularly worthy friend of ours in south America, with whom we can conclude the agreement. Thanks in part to economic liberalisation and its openness in world trade, it has one of the healthiest economies in south America. Where others have regrettably faltered on that continent, it has advanced.
I note with particular pleasure that there has been an agreement to lower tariffs on wine and spirits. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's ability to drink Chilean red wine will be enhanced by the agreement. It is certainly cheaper, and it is excellent that there will be more whisky to drink at a cheaper price in Chile.
I should like to mention the vast size of the documentation for both association agreements. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would agree that our scrutiny of such massive material—there are more than 1,400 pages here—would be enhanced if there were more formal mechanisms for co-operation between MPs and Members of the European Parliament to examine such legislation.
I shall turn to the text of the agreement. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that some of the articles strike the reader as somewhat vague and unclear in their implications. The hon. Gentleman will know that article 43A states:
''The Parties recognise that the participation of the social partners will be promoted as regards living conditions and integration into society.''
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would explain the practical use of that article.
Article 45(2) states:
''Co-operation shall contribute to strengthening policies and programmes that improve, guarantee and extend the equitable participation of men and women in all sectors of political, economic, social and cultural life.''
It also refers to
''easing women's access to all necessary resources for the full exercise of their fundamental rights.''
That is a very worthy and admirable objective, but will the hon. Gentleman explain what practical action will flow from it, and what practical action is binding on the parties as a result of that article?
Turning to Egypt, I am delighted to agree to this association agreement. I do not believe that there could be any controversy about that. The hon. Gentleman has set out the background to it very comprehensively. More than ever, the Euro-Mediterranean process is of considerable importance for obvious reasons. It bridges the divide between the west and the Muslim and Arab world. It attempts to build prosperity in a part of the world that badly needs it. Egypt has a booming population—a real demographic challenge—but has not created the wealth to support it properly. It is in all our interests that we work together to build prosperity there as a guarantor of future stability. The Euro-Mediterranean
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process is to be praised in its efforts to spread free trade across the Mediterranean.
On the agreement, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the European Commission emphasises phytosanitary issues as an obstruction to the best trade relations with Egypt. I hope that he will be able to explain the nature of those issues and what progress has been made in the agreement in overcoming them. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that EU aid programmes have not always been held to follow the highest standards of transparency and effectiveness. That is universally regarded. Does he think that the agreement might help to improve the EU aid programme's sometimes rather sorry record?
It must be said that Egypt's human rights record has not always been of the standard that might be hoped for, and the hon. Gentleman referred to that. It is certainly not a functioning democracy as we know it. Will he explain how he expects the agreement will improve the health of civil society in Egypt? Will it be a pressure point on Egypt to improve in this area?
Finally, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the EU's treaty-making powers will change if the European constitution comes into force. Perhaps he might give an outline of how the endowment of the EU with a single legal personality will change the way in which it ratifies economic association agreements. If it is not convenient for him to do that this afternoon, I would be very interested in receiving a letter giving that information. This is a live matter, in view of the current recommendations of the Convention.
The Conservative party completely and unreservedly welcomes both agreements. We believe and hope that they will be mutually beneficial and a small but valuable step in increasing the volume of trade in today's economic climate.