Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 42)


15 NOVEMBER 2005Mr Roger Liddle

  Q40  Lord Jordan: Do the European Union negotiators who are going to Hong Kong have any mandate at all to arise and press the issue of core labour standards?

  Mr Liddle: They have a commitment to core labour standards but not to raise them at Hong Kong as part of the WTO, because the developing countries insisted that this agenda was not conducted through the WTO but through the International Labour Organization. We are committed to core labour standards. We use our much maligned preference regimes to try and promote core labour standards. Obviously that would be an important part of a bilateral trade agenda that the EU was pursuing. No, we are not doing it multilaterally because the developing world does not want it.

  Q41  Lord Inglewood: If we go back to the response that you gave Lord Steinberg you referred to the very dramatic position adopted by Brazil as far as non-agricultural market access and trade and services were concerned. Do you think that is fuelled by the fear that the United States would simply come in and take everything over?

  Mr Liddle: I think it is fuelled by their history, that when they got into all that debt trouble at the end of the 1980s (and my memory is a bit hazy) as part of the IMF package of support that the Brazilians had, they were required to cut tariffs pretty drastically, and this did cause quite a lot of unemployment in some of their (what had been) highly protected industrial sectors. I think that there is, as always, a sort of political background to these things. They have had a nasty experience in the past with this kind of imposed liberalisation and they do not want it to happen again. The contrary argument is that their economy is now a much more competitive economy than it was in the 1980s; so they can face these things with much greater resilience. If you look at the agricultural sector, again I knew nothing at all about this until I went to Brussels last year, I was just amazed to look at the statistics of how sector by sector the Brazilians are now dominating agricultural exports in the world; and the potential for growth they have is enormous. They are building up a huge trade surplus in agricultural exports. This is all very good for them, and I do not think we have got any right to say that they should not be allowed to exploit the natural competitive and comparative advantage of these areas. All I am saying is I think their economy is in a much stronger position to reciprocate than it was when they were in difficulties at the end of the 1980s.

  Q42  Lord Cobbold: Are you, in general, optimistic or pessimistic about the outcome for the Hong Kong Ministerial meeting?

  Mr Liddle: I am optimistic about an outcome for the Doha Round. Certainly Mr Mandelson believes we have got to pull this one off. For the Hong Kong meeting itself—at trade ministers' level a consensus was arrived at that it was not going to achieve that much, which Mr Mandelson disagreed with but had to go along with the consensus. Let us see what happens internationally in response to what the Prime Minister said last night—I just do not know.

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