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House of Lords

Wednesday, 19th November 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.): The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

World Trade Priorities

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are now their world trade priorities following the collapse of the conference in Cancun.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the Government's priority remains to ensure a successful conclusion to the Doha round of the World Trade Organisation negotiations, which would provide a freer and fairer international trading system that addresses the interests of developing countries. The Government are continuing to work with EU partners, the European Commission and other WTO members to get the WTO negotiations back on track.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the present situation is grotesque, in which the richest countries, with only 14 per cent of the world's population, enjoy 75 per cent of the world's exports, while the poorest countries, with 40 per cent of the world's population, account for only 3 per cent of world trade? Does he further agree that that provides no basis for world stability and security? Will the Government now ensure that development invariably becomes central to trade policy, that non-reciprocity and differentials favouring poor countries will be promoted, and that the common agricultural policy—which positively harms agriculture in the poorest countries—is fundamentally reformed? Above all, can my noble friend assure us that, in future, the Government will treat as a priority the needs of the poorest countries of the world rather than the preoccupations of the rich?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I agree that the distribution of wealth in the world is greatly distorted and leads to poverty, which is to be deplored. The most important issue in regard to the Doha negotiations is the question of getting rid of agricultural subsidies. That must be a major focus because, more than anything else, their removal would help the poorer countries. Further, right from the start it has been recognised that the needs of the poorest countries are central to the Doha negotiations.

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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, what meetings have taken place in the run-up to the senior officials' meeting to be held on 15th December in Geneva—only three weeks away? Have representatives from the United Kingdom attended those preliminary meetings?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the Cancun conference agreed a new deadline of 15th December to resolve those issues which could not be agreed. Negotiations, undertaken in restricted groups, are now continuing in Geneva. The atmosphere in those negotiations is positive, but substantial progress has not yet been made.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the highest priority must be to ensure that the European Union should, at a very early stage, resolve any ambiguity in its attitude and make it absolutely clear at the summit to be held in Brussels in December that it favours a resumption of the Doha round to take place as early as possible?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, there is no question of the fact that we believe that the Doha Round should continue. While the collapse of the Cancun conference was disappointing, along with all other countries we are quite clear that it should not be allowed to become a fatal setback and that we need to get the discussions back on track as soon as possible. I do not think that there has ever been any question about that; it is a common position taken by other countries.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government are using their special relationship with the United States to persuade the Americans to drop not only their own tariffs on steel imports, but also to engage in multilateral talks on trade rather than bilateral talks, which benefit the stronger rather than the weaker countries?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is well known that the Government are taking a strong line on the question of the US steel tariffs, which the World Trade Organisation has now rejected, declaring them to be illegal. Of course we are keen to ensure, so far as any country is concerned, that this whole round should not degenerate into any form of bilateral deal as opposed to continuing with multilateral agreements.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, given that my noble friend on the Front Bench mentioned in his first response the imperative of ensuring agricultural reform, can he tell us with some precision the actions taken by Her Majesty's Government in the recent budget round to reduce the proportion of the European budget spent on agriculture? Further, can he say whether he deems that agricultural reform is anything like approaching satisfaction?

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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as part of the run-up to the discussions in Cancun, the European Union agreed to significant reforms of the common agricultural policy that will mean substantial cuts in trade-distorting support and export subsidies which do so much damage to the whole cause of the developing world. That marked an important start in the negotiations, but no doubt there is further room to continue with the work.

Lord Elton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the current imbalance in world trade is unacceptable not only on the grounds of compassion, but also unsafe in terms of ensuring the security of this country in a stable world? Does he further agree that any measures to effect a change to that imbalance would be so big that they will affect our own living standards? Have the Government given any thought to talking to the other parties about an agreed policy so that this issue does not become a casualty of successive election campaigns?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we are discussing trade. It is clear from all the studies undertaken by the World Bank, the European Union and others that if there could be a substantial reduction of, say, 50 per cent in protectionist measures, that could boost the incomes of developing countries by around 150 billion dollars; that is, by three times the level of current aid flows. However, that would not mean that there would be any adverse effect on the position of the developed world in the sense that one of the benefits of free trade is that by reducing tariff barriers, it is possible to increase the total wealth of the world. That is the basis of free trade and it is the basis on which we are negotiating.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the position of the European Union at Cancun contributed to the breakdown of the talks? Can he give an assurance that the EU now has an agreed position which takes account of the failure of the negotiations at Cancun and which will be a positive basis for the talks to be held during December in Geneva?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, while the trigger for the breakdown of the negotiations at Cancun was the question of the "Singapore issues", a number of other matters were still on the table, the main one being the demands made by the developing world for a further reduction in agricultural tariffs. Obviously we shall be moving forward from the current position. I think that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made it clear on 17th September in the other place that we would be operating on the basis of the concessions that had already been made, rather than seeking to go back to earlier positions. That means that the WTO agreements on investment and competition are now off the European Union agenda.

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Parliament Square: Displays

2.37 p.m.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will have discussions with the relevant authorities with a view to the removal of the displays in Parliament Square.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my officials have had discussions with the Metropolitan Police, the Greater London Authority and the City of Westminster about the displays in Parliament Square. The nature and location of these displays means that there is no immediate action that can be taken. The Procedure Committee in the other place has examined the Sessional Orders and Resolutions, including the Sessional Order designed to keep the access to Parliament open. The committee published its report this morning and we will consider its findings most carefully.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, we shall be interested to see the result of that consideration. Is the Minister aware that the dirty and untidy encampment has now become a permanent feature of Parliament Square? Most of the time it is left empty for any protester to take over and use as they will. Is not planning permission necessary for camping arrangements in that area? If so, who gave that permission? If planning permission is not required, can any member of the public park their mobile homes, vans or cars there? Does not the Minister agree that tourists come from all the four corners of the earth to see Westminster? Does he not think that this eyesore is defiling the most beautiful parliament building in the world?

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