HC Deb 05 November 1992 vol 213 cc394-6
1. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the progress of the GATT negotiations as they affect the United Kingdom sheep regime.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

Sheep will be subject to the same general commitments as other agricultural products under a GATT round settlement.

Mr. Bruce

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that assurance. What is he doing to ensure that French farmers are not allowed to mess up the whole of the GATT round? He will know that the French people love to eat Dorset lamb but are often prevented from doing so due to unilateral action by French farmers. Will he ensure that the French Government act in a communautaire way in these matters?

Mr. Gummer

The problems that we now face arose largely because, although the European Community was willing to move substantially, it seemed impossible for the American negotiators to have enough authority to move in an equal way. I am sad that we should be in a position in which the GATT round is so in peril. I hope that it will be possible for both sides to come to a conclusion.

I pay tribute to Mr. MacSharry's work and his willingness to negotiate right to the end. I was not involved in the negotiations, but I was present nearby and was aware of what was going on from point to point. As President of the Agriculture Council, I thank him for the work that he has done.

Mr. Stevenson

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that a serious disagreement between the United States and the European Community has been over the discredited and expensive oilseeds regime in the European Community? Will he—

Madam Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Member that the main question refers to the GATT negotiations and the sheep regime. Perhaps he will direct his supplementary question to that point.

Mr. Stevenson

I intend to refer to the GATT negotiations, Madam Speaker, including sheep.

Madam Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Member will heed what I have just said. We shall have a statement later on the negotiations generally.

Mr. Stevenson

Will the Secretary of State accept that, along with problems concerning sheep, the oilseeds regime is a big problem? Does he realise that if the European Community were to accept the GATT panel ruling relating to the oilseeds regime, progress on the GATT negotiations generally might be possible?

Mr. Gummer

I fear that the hon. Gentleman is perhaps not in as detailed connection with the oilseeds regime, or indeed with the sheep regime, as are many in the House. In negotiations of this kind, it is a mistake to undermine those who are trying to negotiate on our behalf as part of the European Community. I believe that Mr. MacSharry sought to do that fully, in accordance with the position of the Council of Ministers, which I represented as the President of that Council. When there is a mile to go and one side goes more than half a mile, it would be helpful if others were able to meet that progress.

Sir Peter Tapsell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if we are now to be committed to a communautaire approach to all these matters we shall have to give a more sympathetic hearing to the French farmers, who are reluctant to hand over their German market to the United States? Is he further aware that those of us who think that our GATT arrangements are of profound importance to this country are concerned lest the deeper we get drawn into this European arrangement with the Maastricht treaty, the more difficult it will be to keep our trading arrangements with the United States on the friendly basis on which we want them to be.

Mr. Gummer

If we were not deep in the European Community, I would have been nowhere near those negotiations and the United Kingdom would have had no possibility of playing a part in the GATT agreement. Britain on its own would have had to stand aside and watch the European Community make GATT arrangements with the United States of America. That is why those who voted in favour of the Maastricht treaty last night were right and my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell) was entirely wrong.

Mr. Ron Davies

It is in the interests of sheep producers as well as every other sector that we have a settlement at the GATT negotiations. I offer my personal support to the Minister in those negotiations. I know that he has just flown back from north America and we wish him well in achieving the settlement that he wants. Will he confirm, however, that at 3 o'clock this afternoon the Americans will announce retaliatory measures following the failure to reach agreement at the GATT round, principally on oilseed dumping by the EC? Will he also confirm that there have been two consecutive rulings by the GATT disputes panel against the EC on that issue? As Britain currently has the presidency of the Agriculture Council, will he now guarantee that he will not allow Britain's commercial interests to be prejudiced due to unfair protection by European Community farmers?

Mr. Gummer

First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his election to the shadow Cabinet. I know that we shall have some sharp exchanges, hut they will be fair and honourable and I welcome them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Resign."] To resign for being honourable and fair seems a sad attitude to take.

The truth is that the European Community has sought to meet the objections and has suggested a range of ways in which that might be done. I am determined to do everything that I can to encourage those negotiations and discussions to go on. I am sorry that there did not appear to be authority on the other side—understandably, against the background of the United States elections, and so on —to proceed as could otherwise have been done.

I shall continue to do my best to safeguard not only Britain's interests but, as President of the Agricultural Council for the time being, those of the whole of Europe.

There is no other way to deal with world trade than to get a GATT settlement, which is as important to farmers in Britain, France and the United States as anywhere else.