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House of Lords

Tuesday, 3rd June 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

WTO: Animal Welfare

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to persuade the World Trade Organisation to include the welfare of animals as a justification for discrimination in trade.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the United Kingdom has been working with the European Union on this issue for a number of years. Animal welfare issues have long been included among the EU's World Trade Organisation negotiating priorities and at Doha the EU successfully ensured that the issue of farm animal welfare was on the agenda for the current Agreement on Agriculture negotiations.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Will the Government do their best, and also stimulate our European partners, to try to achieve the result that all people of goodwill want; namely, that we should be able to choose between food which has been humanely produced and that which has been inhumanely produced and that no economic considerations should stand in the way of that?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we will do what we can. It is United Kingdom policy wherever possible to try to raise the level of animal welfare internationally through dialogue and through engagement. Unilateral action can often be counterproductive, as I am sure that the noble Lord will recognise. On occasions, it can work against efforts to persuade others. It is important to note that many developing countries view our concerns about animal welfare as trade discrimination. They believe that our concerns are trade restrictions that affect them as developing countries disproportionately. I am sure that the noble Lord understands that it is not so much the issues about finance and costs as the issues about developing countries that we are bearing in the forefront of our minds.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if third world countries, practising in many cases inhumane methods of production, are allowed to import without any control, that could undermine EU producers?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there are a number of considerations to bear in mind in

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relation to not only third world countries, as the noble Lord puts it, but also a number of other countries bound by the WTO. I hope that I have made it very clear to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that we shall do what we can to pursue animal welfare issues. The WTO rules, agreed by a consensus of all the WTO member states, are designed to provide the framework in which they operate. They do not specifically prevent measures which are aimed at raising animal welfare, but they do regulate it. They regulate it by discriminating about third country imports; about imports and domestically produced goods; and they also regulate it as to measures which are thought to be arbitrary or disguised restrictions on trade.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, rather than have a system whereby one seeks to use anything as a justification for discrimination in trade, it would be far better if we concentrated on obtaining agreed standards of animal welfare and continued to propagate the interests of open, free trade and not seek to have any barriers to that process?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree. It is important to engage with all countries—not just developing countries but others—about animal welfare standards. That we are seeking to do, which is why I laid the great stress I did to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on engaging in a dialogue on these issues. Given that, we believe that it is important to operate within a rules-based organisation like the WTO, so that when there are disagreements about these issues there is a means of resolving them.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether in the EU, never mind the world, standards are equal, because our farmers are inclined to believe that the standards in Europe are not as rigorous as they are here?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that I can do a little better than that. I can provide the noble Lord with a recent Commission communication, some 40 pages long. I am sure that he would not wish me to rehearse it all here, but it is on animal welfare legislation. It was published by the EU in November last year and is a very helpful over-guide of the Commission's approach to improving animal welfare issues internationally. I shall ensure that I send the noble Lord a copy.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, would not unilateral action actually be very—

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I think that it is the turn of the Opposition.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that there is rising concern among

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the general public about animal welfare standards of meat and other products imported into this country, often at the expense of the British farmer? Have the Government tried to persuade the World Trade Organisation to permit labelling of such food as not meeting UK welfare standards?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, we are very keen to see better labelling of all products that are traded. The noble Lord is quite right. There is rising concern not just about animal welfare, but also about human health and the concerns that individuals have, for example, about genetically modified products. The United Kingdom, in concert with our EU partners, believes that better labelling is an important aspect of our current negotiations in the WTO.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the Minister said that the EU and this country had some success at Doha. Can she say what has happened since in getting the issue of animal welfare on the agenda in a specific form for Cancun?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am afraid, as we shall discuss later in Questions in your Lordships' House, that matters are moving rather slowly in Cancun. I hope that the issues about animal welfare will be taken forward. It was indeed a success to get animal welfare on to the agenda. We must remember that the negotiations do not end with Cancun, although it is a very important staging post. As I said, we shall be discussing this matter later, but I would suggest to the noble Baroness that there are probably greater priorities for most developing countries. We should bear in mind that we are discussing the development round. The developing countries will put some other issues very much more to the forefront of the agenda.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, does the Minister agree that getting this matter on to the agenda is not just a question of welfare but of the very dignity of being human and of how we treat our fellow creatures, and that the way in which the matter is put across will determine the urgency with which it is treated?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that is an important point. It is not just a matter of considering the general rules although those are enormously important as regards animal welfare standards—as I said to your Lordships, this is a matter that the United Kingdom and our colleagues in the EU take very seriously—but also of considering individual aspects of trade in animal products. Your Lordships will have heard recent discussion about cat and dog fur and there is also debate about seal skins and laying hens. A number of different issues arise which concern not just animal welfare but also, as the right reverend Prelate said, the ways in which we as human beings share the planet with our fellow creatures.

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Augustine Chihuri

2.44 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take steps to remove Augustine Chihuri, the Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, as honorary Vice-President of Interpol.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am happy to say that we have learnt that Zimbabwe's police commissioner announced in a letter to Interpol dated 28th May that he would step aside from the position we are discussing.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we very much welcome the resignation. The appointment was seen as support by Interpol for a repressive police force that yesterday viciously beat and shot at peaceful protestors.

The Prime Minister's statement in Evian expressed strong support for NePAD in which African leaders assume responsibility for democracy, human rights and good governance throughout the continent. May I therefore ask the Minister what has been the reaction of governments in the region to Morgan Tsvangirai's arrest and to the court order banning this week's protests—both issued on affidavits in Chihuri's name?

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