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Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) (Republic of Tajikistan) Order 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Martyn Jones
Atkins, Charlotte (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab)
Betts, Mr. Clive (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Dunne, Mr. Philip (Ludlow) (Con)
Evennett, Mr. David (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con)
Francois, Mr. Mark (Rayleigh) (Con)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh, South) (Lab)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
Milburn, Mr. Alan (Darlington) (Lab)
Moore, Mr. Michael (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD)
Morgan, Julie (Cardiff, North) (Lab)
Murphy, Mr. Jim (Minister for Europe)
Penrose, John (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield, North) (Lab)
Tipping, Paddy (Sherwood) (Lab)
Turner, Mr. Neil (Wigan) (Lab)
Hannah Weston, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 16 October 2007

[Mr. Martyn Jones in the Chair]

Draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) (Republic of Tajikistan) Order 2007

4.30 pm
The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) (Republic of Tajikistan) Order 2007.
I am delighted to be here along with so many of my hon. Friends and other colleagues to discuss this important issue. The order is a necessary step before the UK can ratify the EU-Tajikistan partnership and co-operation agreement. UK ratification of that agreement will contribute to strengthening EU engagement with central Asia through implementation of the EU strategy for the region and through the work of Pierre Morel, the EU special representative. Our interests in Tajikistan, which are also a focus of EU and other donor activity, are counter-drugs and counter-terrorism in support of our efforts in Afghanistan, and the promotion of good governance, human rights and sustainable development.
Since 2004, the region has seen a retreat from democracy and relations with the west. Russia, China and Iran are playing a greater role, including in Tajikistan. There is a need for greater co-operation between the five central Asian states, as well as with Afghanistan and beyond. That is the focus of EU and other donor activity. The partnership and co-operation agreement—it may be helpful from now on if I refer to it as the PCA—sets out the political, economic and trade relationships between the EU and Tajikistan, instituting the basis for regular political dialogue, co-operation on a wide range of areas, and trade and investment.
The PCA is a mixed agreement, covering matters falling within the competence of the European Community, and others within the competence of member states. It is concluded for an initial period of 10 years. The PCA aims to promote democratic reforms, economic growth, sustainable development, and action against poverty. The PCA also includes model clauses on action against terrorism, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Ratifying the agreement would enable the EU to bring its relations with Tajikistan into a comprehensive legal framework, which will boost current co-operation, allow wider trade and economic relations, and strengthen EU influence in promoting good governance and human rights in Tajikistan at a key stage in its own development. It will help the EU to compete with the growing influence of Russia, China and Iran, which are also contributing to the development of infrastructure and the energy sector.
Tajikistan is both the poorest country in central Asia and one of the most strategically placed, bordering Afghanistan. The Tajiks co-operate with the EU on counter-narcotics, participate in partnership for peace, and support coalition efforts in Afghanistan. Tajikistan needs EU assistance more than most: a civil war and the drugs trade have disrupted its development immensely.
With regards specifically to the UK’s assistance, our growing Department for International Development programme has spent over £10 million since 2003, focused on community development, judicial reform, encouragement of the private sector, and HIV/AIDS. In addition, we have spent over £2 million on helping the Tajik border forces to strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border, promoting the development of civil society and democratic reform in addressing the threat of conflicts through the conflict prevention pool.
The European Commission spends about ,33 million per year in Tajikistan. From an initial focus on humanitarian aid, it has moved to a significant programme of technical support, and it is established as a key partner with Russia, China and the US. Fifteen per cent. of heroin traffic from Afghanistan transits Tajikistan to Russia. That has a profound negative effect on young people, disrupts the economy, and encourages corruption. Through the EU’s border management programme, Her Majesty’s Government have supported efforts to strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border, and we are working closely with Tajikistan’s drugs control agency.
The EU strategy for central Asia adopted in June raises the profile of central Asia within Europe and paves the way for an expansion of our activity in the region, both bilaterally and regionally. In Tajikistan, President Rahmonov has consolidated his power and is looking for support to take the country forward, out of poverty and dependence. Ratification would strengthen the EU’s ability to influence the direction that the president will take. The ratification and implementation of the PCA would consolidate Tajikistan’s links with Europe, and enhance our efforts there. Accordingly, I ask that the draft order be approved.
4.35 pm
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Jones? I hope that Hansard can somehow note the sartorial elegance of your rather splendid tie. This occasion should not pass without that going into the record.
It is also a pleasure to be in the Committee with my opposite number, the Minister for Europe. We both seem to be rather busy at the moment for some curious reason, so it is a pleasure to see him sitting here quietly as we turn to this important treaty.
As the Minister explained, the order would declare that the partnership and co-operation agreement between the European Communities and member states and the Republic of Tajikistan, signed on 11 October 2004, is to be regarded as a Community treaty as defined by section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. Therefore, as I understand it, what we are doing this afternoon equates to parliamentary ratification of that agreement.
I should explain at the outset that we have no objection to the proposal in principle. Nevertheless, as we are, in effect, agreeing a treaty, it is important to ask the Minister some questions about how the treaty is intended to operate in practice. In essence, the agreement contains measures to strengthen the EU’s trade, economic, and political relations with Tajikistan. It also contains a number of additional measures covering human rights, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, all of which are undoubtedly very important subjects.
There has been a series of these agreements with the former republics of the Soviet Union. I would not go as far as to say that they are all substantially equivalent, but there is a broad precedent in the way that they have been laid out. There was an agreement with Ukraine in 1998, with Kazakhstan in 1999 and with Armenia in the same year. Tajikistan is one of the last constituent republics of the former Soviet Union to have its agreement with the EU ratified. The EU decided against signing a treaty with Belarus and in the case of Turkmenistan the agreement which was signed 1998 still remains to be ratified.
We support these measures in their generality as we believe that continuing to help the republics of the former Soviet Union to emerge from the scourge of communism and to form links with Europe based on trade and co-operation must be beneficial for both sides. However, I would like to press the Minister, at least briefly, on some of the detail.
First, he said that the agreement is due to last for 10 years. Is that 10 years from the date of signature or the date of ratification? I suspect that it is the latter, but it would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that so that it is on the record.
Secondly, the agreement accords to Tajikistan “most favoured nation” status in relation to EU customs dues. I understand that in practice that will mean that Tajikistan will receive the benefit of the “most favourable” EU customs duties, outside the provisions of the EU single market. In return, Tajikistan will grant the EU customs levels comparable to their most favourable trading states. I should be grateful if the Minister told me whether my understanding is correct.
Next, on the matter of military co-operation, under article 71 of the treaty Tajikistan reaffirms the importance of the fight against terrorism and we obviously welcome that. It is a potentially useful article given Tajikistan's proximity to Afghanistan, and the ongoing operations that our soldiers are bravely undertaking there.
Tajikistan has already granted the use of its airports to the international coalition against terrorism for military operations in Afghanistan. The US and France have already taken advantage of that to deploy troops to at least two locations in the country. Given the importance of the help that is already forthcoming from Tajikistan, can the Minister explain what extra co-operation he envisages might result from Parliament ratifying the treaty with that state? What more do we get as a result of signing up to it, if anything?
Articles 68 and 69 refer to co-operation on money laundering and the fight against drugs. They are welcome articles, especially given Tajikistan's geographical position and the unfortunate fact that in the past it has been used occasionally as an unwanted route into Europe for the transhipment of narcotics. Can the Minister set out the practical help the UK will be giving to the Tajik authorities to help them in their fight on drugs? Can he elaborate on what he touched on earlier? I would also be grateful for his assessment of our co-operation with Tajikistan so far on that delicate subject and how he sees it panning out in the future.
On elections, one of the objectives of the treaty under article 4 is to
“support the political and socio-economic changes underway in the Republic of Tajikistan”
together with the objective set out in the explanatory notes of “promoting democratic reforms”. What is the Minister’s assessment of the state of Tajik democracy, particularly the independence of its media and the creation of an independent electoral commission? We have one of those. It is not perfect perhaps, but we do have one. I should be interested to know how the Minister sees it coming along in that country. We can perhaps learn from them just as they can learn from us.
I was interested to read article 29 in chapter 3 on maritime co-operation. There was a time in the 19th century when the so-called “great game” was being played out by British and Russian officers across central Asia, not least in the hope of securing advantage to suitable maritime ports. But Tajikistan is a land-locked country, so I wonder why there is a paragraph relating to maritime co-operation in the treaty. I am sure that the Foreign Office has an extremely clever reason for that and I would be intrigued to know what it is. I am sure that the Minister will quickly bound to his feet to tell me the answer.
In conclusion, the Opposition support the initiative in its generality. I have asked a few questions of the Minister. Can he explain how co-operation in the fight against terrorism and the fight against drugs will be improved? What is his assessment of the development of democracy in Tajikistan, especially in relation to the independence of its media, not least given its history under the Soviet Union? Provided that he can provide answers to those reasonable questions, and that niggling little maritime point, the Opposition do not intend to oppose the measure.
4.42 pm
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): First, Mr. Jones, may I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship today and to have the opportunity of contributing to the debate? For those who might be concerned, I do not intend to detain the Committee for too long on this matter, important though it undoubtedly is. The Minister, the hon. Member for Rayleigh and I find ourselves in some measure of agreement.
Like earlier orders that have come before us, the order is important in the context of building relationships between the European Community and Tajikistan. For that reason alone it is to be welcomed. As it is a country with a growing, but still not fully developed economy, we should give it the support it needs to develop that economy and to become more self-sufficient. Tajikistan is the most significant per capita beneficiary of EC assistance in central Asia, receiving more than ,350 million between 1992 and 2002. That makes it all the more important that we ensure that its trade with the EC continues. It is clearly to the EC’s advantage to develop its relationship with Tajikistan to ensure that its economy continues to strengthen, so that eventually it becomes self-sufficient.
We are pleased that co-operation is being encouraged on important issues such as human rights and democracy, but are concerned that the need for human rights reforms has not been sufficiently pressed. I hope that the Minister will respond to those concerns a little later. I know that in the international community there have been reports that the 2005 and 2006 elections did not meet international standards. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed concerns about human rights in Tajikistan, including its use of the death penalty. Reports of torture, human trafficking and restrictions on the freedom of the press must concern us.
It is in the interests of the European Community as a whole to ensure that democracy in Tajikistan is stable and well developed and that human rights are respected. To achieve that, a timeline with set goals for improving human rights and democracy needs to be agreed as part of the EU co-operation process. I ask the Minister to address that issue when he responds to the debate.
We are encouraged by the inclusion in the agreement of co-operation on the prevention of illegal activities. There have been considerable problems with drug trafficking in the region, particularly with smugglers crossing over from Afghanistan. I hope that through the agreement, the EC can co-operate with and encourage the Government of Tajikistan to continue their work to stop the drugs trafficking operations, which of course serve only to further destabilise the region. Again, I specifically ask the Minister to address those concerns in his response.
The problem of terrorist training camps spreading through the region must be addressed quickly and decisively. As a neighbour of Afghanistan, the closest possible co-operation between the EC and Tajikistan to battle terrorism must be encouraged.
In conclusion, both drugs trafficking and terrorism are global problems that in our view can only be tackled through close international co-operation. While we welcome the agreements as a way to tackle those problems, we also need to use this agreement, this opportunity and the European Community’s soft power influence to bring about the real and swift reform of what is currently an all too poor human rights situation in Tajikistan.
4.46 pm
Mr. Murphy: I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to the points that have been raised and the specific point about maritime co-operation, which I will come to shortly. A lot of detailed points were raised and the Committee will be pleased if I do not take up the rest of the one hour and 13 minutes that we have at our disposal in responding to all of them. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe may wish to intervene to take up any remaining time that I have not consumed in my second contribution.
In terms of the points raised by the hon. Members for Rayleigh and for Cheadle, Tajikistan has signed most of the United Nations human rights conventions and has established—this is a specific point for the hon. Member for Cheadle—a moratorium on the death penalty since 2005. In the context of recovering from civil war, civil society and the media are relatively weak but they exist and are developing.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has a centre that works with Tajik authorities on a range of human rights issues. On electoral legislation, an independent electoral commission is not yet envisaged, but the OSCE and the international community are working with the Tajiks on wider electoral reform.
I should also mention on press freedom that we continue to have issues and concerns not just about the domestic Tajik press, but about the BBC and its capacity and ability to broadcast in Tajikistan. The BBC has been unable to re-broadcast on FM since January 2006, despite much work by our embassy with the Tajik authorities. The Tajik Government assure us that that is a purely technical issue and that the BBC will be back on the air eventually. That is a matter of real importance and the UK Government are taking it very seriously. I know that I speak for hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, and therefore on both sides of the House, when I say that the BBC’s capacity to broadcast independently there and elsewhere around the world is something that the UK Parliament, the UK Government, and Her Majesty’s Opposition parties take very seriously.
On the points about counter-drugs and counter-narcotics policy, as has rightly been mentioned by the hon. Members for Cheadle and for Rayleigh, and as I said in my introductory comments, the border with Afghanistan is of strategic importance to our counter-narcotics efforts. I have already mentioned that since 2005 we have spent more than £2 million strengthening the capacity of the Tajik-Afghan border and the Tajik border services. Most of that assistance has been channelled through the EC border management programme in central Asia as part of its £40 million regional programme, but we remain absolutely vigilant about the nature of the challenge, the nature of the threat and the job that needs to be done on that border.
On the matter of trade and customs, which was raised by the hon. Member for Rayleigh, I hope that my comments are helpful. If they do not fully answer his point, we can continue to debate the matter at length today or at another time. Tajikistan benefits from preferential trade under the EU’s generalised system of preferences; that is mainly relevant to textiles. I hope that that reassures him.
I think that I have dealt with all the issues apart from that of maritime co-operation. I am reliably informed, or, rather, reminded once again—the Committee will have considered this issue in great detail in preparation for today’s debate—that Tajikistan has 200 km of internal waterways along the Vakhsh river.
Mr. Francois: I am delighted with the Minister for that clarification. Up to that point, we were all slightly at sea, but I am pleased with it. Will he say a few words about terrorism and drugs, which I asked him about and which, of course, are very serious subjects? Given that Tajikistan abuts Afghanistan, can he say anything more about the co-operation between our two nations, not least—I say this to him absolutely straight—because our forces are in action in Afghanistan? Can anything more be offered as encouragement to them in terms of co-operation between our two nations as a result of this agreement? I would genuinely be grateful for his comments.
Mr. Murphy: That is a serious point and deserves a serious answer. Our assessment is that there are no current proven links between Tajik nationals and terrorism directly affecting the UK—that is our current assessment—but Tajik nationals are involved in radical Islamist movements and are active in terrorist activities in the central Asian region more generally.
On the point about border management in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, there is a £500,000 contribution for capacity building for the eighth Afghan border police, which is helpful in terms of counter-narcotics and any potential issue regarding terrorism. That is part of a larger EC project of over £3 million funding to establish a replica project on the Afghan side of the Tajik border. UK funds will be used to establish mobile training teams. Germany is providing a separate contribution to develop regional border liaison networks, but that element has recently been suspended due to Tajik reluctance, for legal reasons, to set up the network. However, that is something that continues to be pressed.
Working through the European Union on this treaty and others strengthens the UK’s role in the world and ensures our capacity to deliver British priorities and values on an international stage in a much more effective way.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) (Republic of Tajikistan) Order 2007.
Committe e rose at six minutes to Five o' clock.

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