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The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): We have commercial departments operating in all European capitals. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a statement in the House tomorrow setting out some limited changes to our representation overseas.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: Am I reliably informed by a business man who used to live in Cheshire and whom I have known for more than 20 years that the commercial departments in embassies throughout Europe are being downsized and that UK staff in particular are being made redundant? If that is the case, does the Minister appreciate the serious impact that that will have on UK industries exporting to countries in Europe and the huge problems that will be created for UK companies in establishing contacts that hitherto have been aided by the commercial departments in our embassies in Europe?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, in the written ministerial statement that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make tomorrow, a range of those issues will be covered. I equally assure him that we continue to place great importance on the work that is taken forward by the commercial departments in British embassies, not just in Europe but around the world, on the work of UK Trade and Investment and in particular the opportunities that are provided through that network for effective exporting of British services and products.
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Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Minister clarify whether it is part of the remit of commercial departments in British embassies in European capitals to solicit donations from foreign-owned companies on behalf of Britain in Europe so that they may participate in the referendum? If that is not part of their remit, what steps is he taking to ensure that such practices cease forthwith? I understand that he has not had notice of my question, so if he is unaware of individual examples of that practice, will he undertake to investigate the matter and write to me more fully?
Mr. Alexander: I would be keen to see evidence of the situation that my hon. Friend raises, although it might be injudicious of me to say in advance of seeing that that the suggestion is a giant red herring. I shall certainly make inquiries and will happily take the matter forward with him.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does the Minister agree that there are big opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises in the accession countries and other eastern European countries with aspirations to join the EU? Surely we should boost our commercial departments in those countries' embassies. Would it not make sense for the Secretary of State to make an oral statement tomorrow so that we may go into the subject in more detail?
Mr. Alexander: As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has indicated, there will be plenty of opportunity to ask him questions during tomorrow's debate. On the hon. Gentleman's specific point about opportunities for British SMEs in accession countries, I recently had the opportunity to travel to Prague, where I met a range of British businesses that are working in the Czech Republic. They left me in no doubt about both the commercial opportunities that exist in the Czech Republic and the support and encouragement that they had received from UKTI and others in their endeavours.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is in Brasilia as we speak. International trade is naturally a key issue in all her meetings.
There could be no better answer than that. Will my hon. Friend indicate to the House the reaction of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and his Department to last week's creation of the South American Community of Nations, which in outline merges Mercosul and the Andean Community? What bearing does he think that that will have on negotiations between the European Union and Mercosul? Given Brazil's key position in the World Trade Organisation, Mercosul and the new body, and its desire to balance its relations with America with
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those with the European Union, does he agree that close political contact with President Lula's Government should be of the highest priority for this Government?
Mr. MacShane: I agree with that point. It was a pleasure to have President Lula in London last summer at the progressive governance conference, at which he made the point that dismantling trade barriers in south America, and those between south and north America and south America and Europe, was of the highest priority. He is very much at the forefront of that and I welcome all the steps that he is taking to move in that direction. Luckily, we now have an excellent EU Trade Commissioner in post in Brussels and I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's remarks are addressed to him as he takes forward the EU's relationship with Brazil.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Will the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs be examining such trade issues as the production of sugar beet, turkey and chicken in Brazil, which is having a negative impact on producers in the Vale of York and other parts of the UK? Will the Government examine some rather dubious currency fluctuations in the Brazilian economy?
14. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): What plans he has to take forward the Annan plan on Cyprus, with particular reference to direct flights from the UK to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane):
The Government remain strongly committed to achieving a Cyprus settlement. We continue to believe that the Annan plan represents the only realistic basis for a comprehensive solution. Ending the isolation of the
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Turkish Cypriot community will help moves towards a settlement and it is clear that direct flights to the north of Cyprus would contribute to ending that isolation.
Mr. Chapman: The Turkish Cypriots voted for the Annan plan and find themselves in isolation. The Greek Cypriots did not vote for it and have the full benefit of EU membership. Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to end Turkish Cypriot isolation is not just through the establishment of direct flights, but through the flow of EU aid, direct trade and movement on Annan?
Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is right on all three points. The EU is contributing €259 million-worth of aid to the north, but he is right to stress that trade and investment are by far the best ways forward. We are in active discussion with all our EU partners on the matter. If we get a positive result on Turkish accession at the European summit this Friday, I hope that that will also send a signal that the time has come to allow trade 360° around the compass to develop on the island of Cyprus.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that there is no such thing as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as a recognised entity? If he believes that there is still life in the Annan plan, can he tell the House what the Government are doing to secure, first, the removal of the illegal army of occupation in the north, and secondly, a restitution of the property stolen from Cypriots?
Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Government do not recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. We have seen a clear commitment from the Turkish Cypriots in favour of Annan, but alas, a rejection from the Greek Cypriots. We are where we are. I have raised the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentioned with the Turkish Government and on the record, publicly, in Turkey, but it needs two sides to talk. On a recent visit to Cyprus, I urged both the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots to come together and have their own meetings at all levels to find their own solutions, because ultimately the problem of Cyprus needs to be resolved by the Cypriots themselves.
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