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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, first, I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lords, Lord Grenfell and Lord Radice, and the committee for all their hard work in producing this outstanding and important report, which I read with great care, interest and pleasure. It was not difficult because, like the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, I agreed with practically everything. There were more ticks all over it than one can imagine, a few question marks but no crosses.
I defer to the wealth of knowledge on the WTO that the committee's four members have shared with us in today's debate. I also express my regret that we did not have a chance to discuss it sooner, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Radice, said in his opening speech on timing, considering that it was published in June this year. I do not believe that we have had a significant debate on this issue since last winter. I note that this was the EU Select Committee's 16th report and, believe it or not, the website shows that it is now working on its 34th. That is a big workload.
I am sure that your Lordships will agree that it is vital that this House has the chance to consider all these committee reports as close to the publication date as possible. Indeed, we recognise that such reports are admirable and are recognised worldwide. We on these Benches have suggested that, subject always to the committee chairman's view, some debates on committee reports could, if necessary, be taken in a Grand Committee setting. That would allow for more legislation to be taken on the Floor of the Chamber. Taking some committee reports in a Grand Committee setting would also prevent it being suggested that these important debates should be subjected to a time limita practice, as yet informal, that seems to be creeping more widely into usage in the House. I digress on that matter of procedure.
I add my congratulations to the many others on the very interesting and eloquent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Vallance of Tummel. I was most interested to hear his views on the liberalisation of trade, coming from such an experienced background. We look forward to many more of his contributions. He will surely be a great asset to your Lordships' House.
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This report is one of great importance. It is interesting as it lays bare the issues surrounding the European Union and the WTO, in the aftermath of Cancun, in a very clear and concise manner. I found the investigation into the change of the organisation of particular interest. It is good to see that, like the UN and NATO, the WTO is adapting and evolving both internally and externally to meet the changing membership needs and environment within it.
We have seen much development since the events last September which were described as a "farce and failure". The framework for talks agreed in Geneva at the end of July have relit the candle of genuine hope that, despite the numerous missed opportunities and collapsed deadlines, we are now on the path to a final Doha round deala responsibility that I am glad that Her Majesty's Government and the European Union have not shirked.
However, the Geneva agreement still leaves much of the detail to be agreed in further negotiations. There is still a long way to go. While we commend the growing membership of the WTO, imagine 147 powers of veto, different countries all with their own agendas and pressures. That recipe can guarantee only slow progress, as reiterated by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. Perhaps there should be groupings such as that of the European Union to lessen the numbers. Who knows? It is impossible to please everyone. I stress here the importance of political will and the ability to compromise for the greater good. We have yet to see if the loopholes and exclusions will undermine the reinstated negotiations yet again.
On the subject of membership, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the steps that Russia has made towards joining the WTO. However, I find it hard to reconcile the political will to join the WTO with Putin's recent behaviour regarding Yukos and I question how that bodes for the future. How, too, do all the agreements on trade liberalisation, agreed with Pascale Lamy on 21 May, fall into line? I add my congratulations on his outstanding work. Has Her Majesty's Government had any discussions with the Russian administration about meeting the country's deadlines for membership ahead of schedule?
The agreement of the European Union and the United States to remove agricultural export subsidies, which many noble Lords have mentioned, and to reduce other farm subsidies, is one that we welcome, as the noble Lord, Lord Radice, mentioned. As your Lordships know, the joint farm subsidies in the European Union and the United States, as stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, add up to £30 billion a year, an impact on trade that is hard to ignore.
I fully support the view of my noble friend Lord Marlesfordwho was on the committeeon subsidies, and I so enjoyed his fascinating speech which put the subject into context. These agreed reductions have obviously played a significant part in re-gathering
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momentum for the Doha agreement and we congratulate her Majesty's Government on the part they have played in this policy shift.
It is now six months on from the Government's response to this European Union report, and I hope that the Minister will be able to update us on progress on all the committee's recommendations. Most importantly though, can he inform the House of the dates for the negotiations on the end-date by which the export subsidies have to be removed? If not, can he tell us what discussions the Government have had with other WTO members to try to decide a date as quickly as reasonably possible? Can he assure the House that it will occur in the next year, thus working towards the new 2006 deadline for the end of the trade round?
Can the Minister also update the House on the European Union's tabled offer on barriers to trade in services, and what substantial offers have been laid on the table by other WTO members in the sectors where the European Union has made requests?
Returning to Russia and the promises on subsidies, I should like to raise the question of who actually polices the WTO agreement and commitments made by members. I know that it may very well be a devil's gift, but if and when the final deal is done, is the political will strong enough for members to police each other through the WTO?
With the patience of the House, I have a final point on the issue of unfair subsidies. When I made my maiden speech in the European Parliament in 1989, it concerned problems surrounding a bid for the air traffic control equipment for an international airport that was being built in the Far East. The British company in my constituency had great difficulty competing with the two other European contenders due to the effectively legal "hidden" subsidies given to those two companies through research and development budgets. Of course ours did not win the contract. While this does not directly affect agriculture, it is an issue which overlaps once again with the political will of countries to ensure free and fair trade and illustrates the complexity of policing.
Will the Minister assure me that he will ask his representatives to look into this matter with regard to future trade negotiations? I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that we look forward to the UK leadership of the G8. While we welcome the Chancellor of the Exchequer's promise that the presidency next year will be the development presidency, can the Minister shed a little light on how he and the Prime Minister intend to fulfil this promise? Do they have any particular plans within these on trade? Can he assure the House that the term "development" will refer to the whole of the poor world and not just Africa to the detriment of others as deserving causes? We look forward to holding the Prime Minister to his ideals and to see if he can turn his talk on international development into substantive action.
Finally, once again I would like to congratulate the committee on all its work on this vital issue. I thank those who have taken part in the debate today, especially the maiden speaker.
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There is no doubt that all Members of this House wish to aid the alleviation of global poverty, particularly in a world where we continue to see the terrible consequences of regional and national conflicts.
I welcome the statement by her Majesty's Government that the Doha development agenda remains the UK's highest trade policy objective, but we will still have a long way to go on a path strewn with many pitfallsfor example, trade justice, which was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester in his colourful speech.
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