Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Trade and Development

4. The Reverend Martin Smyth (Belfast South) (UUP): What recent discussions he has had on the effects of trade on development. [190358]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): I regularly talk to developing country Ministers about how we can make trade work for the poor. I have also recently talked to the director-general of the World Trade Organisation and the EU Trade Commissioner designate about the need for progress on more open and fairer trade to help developing countries lift their people out of poverty.

We also discussed trade at last week's meeting of the Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that response. Does he agree that while aid is helpful, fair trade is better? What progress has been made in helping developing countries to promote trade when developed countries hinder them?

Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The World Bank estimates that opening up world trade could help to lift 300 million of our fellow human beings out of poverty by 2015. In one sense, it is the single most important step that could be taken. As for progress, after the disappointment of Cancun, a framework agreement was reached just after midnight at the end of July this year, which sets the scene for the WTO ministerial meeting that is due to be held in Hong Kong in December. The real challenge will be to demonstrate, by what we do collectively in reaching an agreement, that we are prepared to take the steps that give the poorer countries of the world the chance to earn and to trade their way out of poverty, because that is what they want. In the end, it will be economic development that will be the real engine for lifting people out of poverty around the world.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that those who lobbied the Labour party conference, including aid agencies such as CAFOD, were impressed by what he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had to say about economic partnership agreements? Will he therefore seek to continue to influence the Government to ensure that trade is at the heart of negotiations, especially during our European presidency?

Hilary Benn: I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks. The economic partnership agreements, which are in the process of being negotiated, provide an opportunity to do what the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) seeks to do. I am sure the whole House also seeks to do that. We should not write them off, as some people have done, when the negotiations have only just begun. There are big issues to be addressed in terms of market access and rules of origin. EPAs are intended to be tools to promote development. The negotiations between the EU and the
13 Oct 2004 : Column 272
five regional organisations will have to result in agreement, and it is the deal that will demonstrate whether those objectives have been met.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): While I endorse everything that the Secretary of State has just said, I urge him to have early discussions with his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry on export credit guarantee cover. In particular, does he really think that it is right that businessmen who are willing to risk their lives trying to build trade with Iraq and to reconstruct that state are turned down for ECG cover on the ground that it is too risky?

Hilary Benn: I will happily raise the hon. Gentleman's point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): On behalf of the trade justice lobby in my constituency, I ask my right hon. Friend to recommit himself and his fellow Ministers to pushing forward trade. Despite the fantastic achievements of this Government in doubling our aid commitment and promoting the international finance facility proposals, it is trade that will be the single most effective means of development. Bono described my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor as our Lennon and McCartney. Where would my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put himself and his Department in the fabulous four?

Hilary Benn: I am tempted by my hon. Friend, but I am not sure that I should go down that road. Lennon and McCartney will be remembered for their achievements, and that is also true of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

We have made some progress. Export subsidies were a real cause of concern, but EU subsidies have more than halved in the past 10 years. The question is whether we will make further progress, and that is what we must work towards.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): On a recent Oxfam-sponsored visit to Ghana, it was made clear that the livelihoods of Ghanaian farmers are seriously threatened through EU and US-subsidised produce. They also experience difficulties due to tariffs on goods that they want to export. Will the Secretary of State set out how DFID's agricultural strategy will ensure that when developing countries' markets are opened it is not done in a way that threatens food security and the livelihoods of rural farmers?

Hilary Benn: Principally, by pressing for special and differential treatment in the negotiations. Why? Because everybody recognises that it is important that developing countries have particular protection, especially for the commodities to which the hon. Gentleman refers, when they are dependent. That is one thing we need to do. Another thing we need to do—as the hon. Gentleman raised the question of Ghana—is to enable those countries to extract more value from their raw materials. For example, they can export cocoa quite happily, but if they try to turn it into refined chocolate themselves, they face a big tariff. That is the sort of case that we need to change in the negotiations.
13 Oct 2004 : Column 273


5. Mr. John MacDougall (Central Fife) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Darfur province in Sudan. [190359]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): May I first express what I am sure are the condolences of the whole House to the families of the two Save the Children staff, Rafe Bullick and Nourredine Issa Tayeb, who were killed by a land mine last Sunday in north Darfur?

The humanitarian situation in Darfur remains precarious, and it was discussed with the Government of Sudan by the Prime Minister and myself during our visit last Wednesday. The United Nations estimates that 2 million people are in need of assistance, including 1.5 million who have had to flee their homes. A further 200,000 refugees have fled to Chad. Security in the camps has improved but outside, displaced people remain vulnerable to attack. More humanitarian assistance is getting through; the World Food Programme estimates that food was distributed to more than 1.3 million people in September, but the needs are still enormous. The UK has pledged £62.5 million since September 2003, and we will sustain our commitment through the allocation of £100 million for humanitarian and development assistance next year.

Mr. MacDougall rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the House to be fair to hon. Members who are listening; it is far too noisy—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Those who are cheering are the ones who will be able to help me.

Mr. MacDougall: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his response. I also thank the Government, the Prime Minister and the Department for their recent visits to Sudan where there is indeed a crisis. I am sure that their support is most welcome. I thank other people throughout the country for their efforts, such as the head teacher from my constituency—Ian Macaulay—who visited Sudan recently and made his contribution.

Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether the Government will back the efforts that have been made so far by considering some form of pre-emptive strike in terms of teacher training, so that the efforts of people who go to Sudan to make a contribution will be much more worth while and will make the best use of taxpayers' money?

Hilary Benn: I add my congratulations to those my hon. Friend offered to all the people who are contributing to the humanitarian relief effort in Darfur, by giving money and by being part of non-governmental organisations that are working there. He raises an important point about the long-term development prospects for Sudan. Let us be very honest: unless there is peace in Darfur, the chances of getting children who are currently huddling in refugee camps with their mums and some of their dads—those who have not been killed—to go to school will be extremely difficult. That is why, as well as the humanitarian aid effort, we need a
13 Oct 2004 : Column 274
political settlement, and in the meantime we need security for those people, so that in due course, when there is a settlement, they are able to return home. We have made it very clear that the prize at the end of the process, if there truly is peace in Sudan, is the prospect of development assistance for that country, where there is enormous poverty, high levels of maternal and infant mortality and very few children go to school. Only with a settlement can the hope that my hon. Friend expresses actually come to pass.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the two workers who were killed. They were unfailingly selfless in the help they gave others.

The Secretary of State is aware that the situation in Darfur is deteriorating—let us face it. According to the UN, 200,000 people have been driven from their homes in the past month, while the UN humanitarian co-ordinator has said that security is now the main constraint on humanitarian assistance and that attacks on civilians have actually increased. Is it not now undeniable, as the United Nations has made clear, that the only organisation that can make a material difference on the ground is the African Union military force and that the time has now come for it to stop watching events unfold and instead become more actively involved in preventing them from doing so?

Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the current situation, but he is a little unfair to the African Union because it has played a leading role in trying to find a solution to the crisis. It has deployed the ceasefire monitors, and I hope that, in the next week, it will take a decision substantially to increase the size of the monitoring force—people who can supervise the police in Sudan and Darfur. It has also played a leading role in the only thing that will provide a solution to the crisis—a political settlement—because it is hosting the talks in Abuja. When I was there three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. El Ghabid, who is brokering those talks. It is very important that we put pressure not just on the Government of Sudan to reach a political agreement, but on the rebels who are in part responsible for the attacks to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. Duncan: Any attention that we can give to Sudan has to be welcome—paradoxically, I welcome the Prime Minister's recent visit to Sudan—but if we are to overcome the continuing disaster, there needs to be universal condemnation of those who are guilty of atrocities. Will the Government now echo the language used by Colin Powell and call what is happening there "attempted genocide", so that any politician or militia member knows that they will never be able to escape the fullest possible punishment for their sub-human crimes?

Hilary Benn: I agree entirely that those who have been responsible for what has gone on in Darfur should be called to account. The purpose of the commission of inquiry, which has been set up under the new UN resolution, is precisely to try to find an answer to the question: is it genocide; is it ethnic cleansing? There is no doubt that it is a crime against humanity. The honest truth is that, whatever description one gives to what has
13 Oct 2004 : Column 275
gone on, the most important thing that can be done is to take the right steps to bring the conflict to an end. In that respect, the undertakings that the Government of Sudan gave to the Prime Minister when we met President Bashir and Vice-President Taha last week—including immediately to implement the humanitarian protocol to identify the location of Government of Sudan forces and to co-operate with the expanded AU mission—are the right steps; but, once again, the Government of Sudan will be judged not by what they say, but by what they do.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the immediate priority is obviously providing humanitarian aid to stop the suffering of many people in Darfur and Sudan, but that the long-term aim involves the issue that he has just been talking about: so many of their problems are self-inflicted? We must seek an end to the continuing problems that that country has experienced, not only now but over many years, if it is to solve the problems that it faces.

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend is right because the tragedy of Sudan is that the conflict in Darfur has exploded at the very moment when a peace deal has been reached to bring to an end the longest-running civil war in Africa between the north and the south. Sudan will have the prospect of development and a better life for its people only when there is peace across the whole country. That is why its Government need to use the framework that they have agreed under the north-south peace deal as a way to solve the conflict in Darfur.

Next Section IndexHome Page