HC Deb 15 December 1993 vol 234 cc1060-2
7. Mr. Milligan

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will report on progress in the GATT trade negotiations.

Mr. Hurd

I believe that we are nearly there.

Mr. Milligan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that later today we can expect some exceptionally good news, on a day of exceptionally good news? Seldom in the course of human history can so few have lost so much sleep in the interests of so many. Does my right hon. Friend agree also that GATT is likely to bring practical benefits to every household in Britain, with sharp cuts in food prices and upwards of 400,000 new jobs over the next 10 years? When does my right hon. Friend plan to uncork the champagne?

Mr. Hurd

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement on that matter tomorrow. I have just returned from Brussels, where I heard Sir Leon Brittan—who handled the negotiations with great skill—report to the European Council. There are bound to be loose ends. As I left, there was still an argument or discussion in progress about Portuguese textiles. We have also been pressing for a better deal for our textiles. Such final pressures are inevitable, but I hope that it will be possible for Mr. Sutherland to announce in Geneva this evening that the Uruguay round has reached a successful conclusion, after seven years in which many successive British Ministers have worked extremely hard—when others had forgotten the issue—to help bring them to a successful conclusion.

My hon. Friend is right in the example that he gave. As a big trading and manufacturing nation, and as a nation of consumers, Britain stands to gain enormously—perhaps as much as any other country—from the success that is just about within grasp.

Mr. Gapes

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that although the Uruguay round and GATT are in the interests of the United States and of the European Community, countries in the southern hemisphere will view the agreement as damaging? It is estimated that Africa will lose $2,600 million by the year 2002. What steps will be taken to assist the poorest countries, which will be damaged by that process?

Mr. Hurd

I do not believe that they will be damaged. I am familiar with the argument, but it is a myth. The winding down of the multi-fibre arrangement over a period of time will benefit new textile producers, and the opening up of the Japanese market after years of total closure will be of huge benefit to rice producers—and so on, across the board. It is not a zero-sum game in which some are bound to gain and some are bound to lose. World trade expands —and under the impetus of such an agreement, it will expand a great deal faster than it otherwise would.

Sir Giles Shaw

Given that some products may have been taken out of the negotiations, what is the mechanism by which textiles, films or steel, for example, will be further pursued?

Mr. Hurd

A number of matters will be further discussed including elements of financial services and maritime matters, on which agreement was not possible on this occasion. Rather than hold up the total agreement, those issues were taken out for the time being. Some are important to us. I asked Sir Leon Brittan today about civil aircraft, aero engines and financial services. The replies and clarifications that I received were reassuring and confirmed our general belief that, for this country, the agreement will be of substantial benefit.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

We understand that one of the cornerstones of the agreement will be a substantial reduction in agricultural subsidies. How long will the agriculture industry, under the terms of the agreement, be given to adjust to the new circumstances arising out of the agreement? Exactly when will we be given details of the agreement, and when will it be deposited in the Library of the House?

Mr. Hurd

I am sure that there will be an opportunity to debate the matter. The Prime Minister will make, I imagine, a fairly full statement tomorrow—that is to say, if the negotiations conclude in the way that we hope. Therefore I shall not answer the hon. Gentleman's question in detail, but I would say that it is common sense that there should be a wind-down in the total of exports of subsidised grain from Europe. It is difficult for farmers in some countries—perhaps in all countries—but I think that most hon. Members in the House believe that that is a movement towards common sense.

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