HC Deb 17 December 1996 vol 287 cc755-66 3.30 pm
The President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian Lang)

I should like to make a statement to the House on the outcome of the first ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation held in Singapore last week, at which I led the United Kingdom's delegation.

The Government are convinced that free trade offers unparalleled opportunities to enhance prosperity, not only in the United Kingdom, but around the world. Accordingly, we had three objectives for the conference. The first was to agree a substantial programme to carry forward trade liberalisation in the WTO, including, in particular, forward-looking work on trade facilitation, standards, Government procurement, tariffs and investment, which is a key priority for British business.

The second objective was the completion, in outline, of an information technology agreement aimed at the progressive elimination of tariffs on information technology products, with the widest possible participation by WTO member countries. The third was to make real progress on negotiations to liberalise basic telecommunications, which are scheduled to conclude by February 1997. I am glad to say that I have positive news to report on all three objectives.

There is now provision in the WTO's new work programme for many of the United Kingdom's priorities for tackling the trade barriers that still remain outwith WTO rules. On trade facilitation—or the simplification of import and export procedures, which was a British-led initiative—the programme agreed opens the way to new co-operative work between the WTO and other relevant international organisations to reduce burdens on trade. Those procedures currently add some 10 per cent. to the costs of goods in international trade.

On Government procurement, all WTO member countries will now engage in work on transparent procedures, which should help to open a much wider range of opportunities for exporters and save taxpayers' money around the world, by encouraging more competition in public tendering procedures. That is an important step forward. Again, it was a British-inspired initiative.

On technical product standards, the way is open under the WTO's work programme to increase co-operation between the WTO and international standards organisations so as to concentrate work on priorities that are of real practical importance to trade, and to reinforce the use of international standards.

The Singapore ministerial declaration contains a renewed commitment to the progressive liberalisation and elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers generally. A working group will be established to look at the range of issues that arise in the relationship between trade and investment. That is vital to Britain as the world's second largest overseas investor.

A working group will be established to study the relationship between trade and competition policy. We will want to promote the development of competition regimes in countries that do not have them, and to reduce any barriers to markets created by anti-competitive practices.

The biggest immediate trade liberalisation achievement of the week was an agreement in principle to phase out tariffs on a wide range of information technology products by the year 2000. Our aim is maximum country participation and maximum product coverage. The deal was instigated by the European Union and the United States, but was joined by 11 other countries. Overall, the participating countries represent about 83 per cent. of world trade. Definitive conclusion of the agreement is scheduled for 1 April 1997, subject to increasing country coverage to the equivalent of 90 per cent. of world trade and reaching satisfactory final arrangements on the staging of tariff reductions in the run-up to the year 2000.

The value of this to Britain will be significant. It will eliminate tariffs facing British exporters in a number of key overseas markets; it will reduce the cost of vital IT products which we import, such as semiconductors; and it will stimulate new growth and enterprise, as there is no British industry that does not rely on IT products in its operations. In money terms, the value to the United Kingdom is estimated at £250 million on tariff cuts alone, setting aside the enormous potential of increased global trade in information technology. As the US trade representative has said, this is a huge global tax cut". An important deal was also agreed between the European Union and the United States on the further elimination of tariffs on spirits. That is very good news indeed for our drinks industry, particularly the Scotch whisky industry. Specifically, the EU and the US have agreed to accelerate the elimination of their tariffs on the import of whisky, brandy and other brown spirits. At the same time, they have also agreed to eliminate their tariffs on the import of gin, vodka and other white spirits over the next five years.

Good progress was also made in the on-going WTO negotiations to open up world telecommunications markets. As the House knows, Britain has benefited greatly from having one of the most liberal telecommunications markets in the world. Nine countries pledged new or better offers, in addition to the 34 commitments already made. That has improved the prospects of an agreement by February 1997, which could be worth $20 billion per annum to Britain by the year 2010.

The United Kingdom was also influential at the conference in helping to keep the WTO focused on trade liberalisation issues. Ministers agreed that economic growth and development, fostered through increased trade and trade liberalisation, offered the best prospect of raising labour standards. The relevant passage in the ministerial declaration also makes it clear that the International Labour Organisation is the competent body to deal with labour standards, while noting that the existing limited collaboration between the WTO and ILO secretariats will continue. In practice, that means that, as has been the case for some time, the two secretariats will send observers to each other's meetings. I am sure that that approach, through trade liberalisation, offers the right way forward, rather than an approach based on sanctions or other restrictions.

In this context, the United Kingdom also pushed hard for specific market access commitments for products from the least developed countries. Those countries account for only about 0.4 per cent. of world trade. I therefore welcome the plan of action agreed by Ministers, which aims to provide more favourable and predictable access for the exports from those countries.

I am happy to say that for the United Kingdom and, I believe, for the world as a whole, the conference was a substantial success. It has enhanced the authority of the World Trade Organisation, and the overriding importance of reducing barriers to trade on a multilateral basis. It represents an important step towards the British Government's objectives of launching a new round of trade negotiations before the end of the century and, in the longer term, achieving global free trade.

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

Does the President of the Board of Trade understand that Labour Members find some of the things in his statement very welcome? On some issues that he set out before he went to the conference, there is common ground across the House. We certainly welcome, for example, the simplification of procedures for importers and exporters, the extension of greater transparency in tendering for public purchasing, the work on achieving greater conformity in international standards, where Britain has a great potential competitive advantage, and the potential establishment of the working groups, which will consider a range of issues arising between trade and investment and trade and competition. Labour Members certainly share the Government's view that those are all desirable means of progress.

We would identify one issue of slight concern. We might be anxious if we thought that there had been the convergence of view on core labour standards that the President of the Board of Trade has identified, but as it appears that everyone is claiming victory on that front—I understand that Commissioner Brittan said that the discussions had been a breakthrough in dialogue on these matters—clearly there is a certain amount of common ground there and not necessarily a clear victory for the Government's view, as the President sought to suggest.

The President raised the issue of liberalisation of telecommunications, which we welcome in the context of the WTO talks. We want it to be achieved through completion of the single market, to which my party is committed. Will he confirm a report that companies such as IBM are suggesting that, if liberalisation produces real savings, they may be channelled specifically towards research and development? That would be an interesting and useful breakthrough and I would be grateful if he could cast any light on the matter.

I notice that the President has identified three principal priorities, but he also mentioned a fourth issue: piracy and intellectual copyright, which, in his speech last week, he identified as costing consumers in the European Union about £2 billion. Was anything discussed at the conference that may cast light on progress on that issue?

Finally, the President of the Board of Trade has mentioned his proposals for a new international round of trade negotiations. Again, reports suggest that there was perhaps not as fulsome a welcome for the notion of a full-scale, all-singing, all-dancing new trade round as he might have hoped. Again, will he clarify the Government's position in this respect because, clearly, although we are all anxious to have constructive developments along those lines, a whole new trade round is a slightly separate matter?

Mr. Lang

I thank the right hon. Lady for her welcome for various matters that I have reported to the House, in particular the improvement in import and export procedures, trade facilitation, the transparency of Government procurement, progress on standards and the working groups that are to be established on investment and competition. I agree that those are all major steps forward in the existing programme's agenda and that they set up the new work programme that the Government were keen to see.

On core labour standards, the right hon. Lady referred to other countries claiming a breakthrough. The declaration's conclusion agreed to the primacy of the International Labour Organisation as the body responsible for these matters, to support basic standards throughout the world—as all countries that have signed the United Nations convention on human rights do—to recognise that trade liberalisation helps to improve working standards in poor countries, and to confirm that there is no contemplation of any attack on developing countries.

There was no reference to a future work programme or to future continuing activity in the WTO on the matter. There was no mention of sanctions. There was a commitment only to the continuance of existing contacts. That agreement, as enshrined in the declaration, conforms exactly to the Government's position. I warmly welcome that sensible and realistic conclusion, which was widely supported by most countries throughout the world.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her welcome for progress in the telecommunications sector and I agree about the desirability of further liberalising the single market in this respect. Indeed, considerable progress in working up the EU's offer has taken place in Europe. For example, Spain has brought forward its offer on liberalisation by several years.

On the question of savings and their application specifically to research and development, that is essentially a matter for the market, but I have not the slightest doubt that the extensive investment in R and D that takes place in the telecommunications industry will be enhanced. We are talking about additional telecoms traffic worldwide of $1,000 billion by the year 2010, and the United Kingdom's share of that is likely to exceed $20 billion. Therefore, if an agreement can be achieved by the middle of February next year, it will be a major breakthrough for the extremely well liberalised telecoms industry in the UK.

With regard to intellectual property rights, the conclusion was to reinforce the work already agreed in the Uruguay round. That will continue to be a high priority for the British Government.

Finally, on the right hon. Lady's question about a full trade round, there is—on the contrary—a growing commitment within the WTO membership to recognise the benefits that trade liberalisation brings. Through the agreement of the working programme, we are already moving de facto towards a new trade round, and I anticipate that at the next meeting of the WTO or the one after that, it should be possible to achieve an absolute commitment to make further progress in that respect.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and excellent progress in this crucial area. What impact will that have on EC regulations and directives? As he has made such excellent progress in world liberalisation, do we need fewer EC regulations, because they are subsumed by the global progress?

Mr. Lang

Yes, I am happy to give my right hon. Friend that assurance. I mentioned, for example, the progress on telecommunications liberalisation achieved in working up the EU offer. In the other areas to which I referred—the working groups on investment, competition, Government procurement, standards and trade facilitation, which was one of the British-inspired initiatives—there will in every respect be an opportunity to dispense with unnecessary regulations. The trade facilitation initiative in particular enables us to tackle what the United Nations conference on trade and development—UNCTAD—has identified as about 10 per cent. of the value of trade in goods, so there are major opportunities ahead.

Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)

May I too welcome the progress that has been made, particularly in information technology, telecoms and—as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) would want me to say—spirits tariffs. What discussion was there at Singapore about the environment? Does not conventional trade liberalisation often lead to environmental damage? Is it not important that we should cease to cling to the argument that economic growth must come before action to protect the environment? How does the President assess the environmental cost in relation to the benefit of any increase in trade that may result from the conference?

Mr. Lang

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is an important topic, on which some progress, albeit limited, was made at Singapore. The WTO committee on the environment and trade had made a useful start, and has now been made a permanent body, so environmental issues are increasingly recognised. My own view is that free trade and environmental protection are mutually supportive. Indeed, environmental protection creates a number of major trading opportunities for countries such as the United Kingdom, which is advanced in the provision of equipment and technology for reducing environmental pollution. This is an important area, on which there is still more work to be done.

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside)

Has there been any progress with Japan, following the WTO ruling on whisky duty? My right hon. Friend's interest in whisky, and mine, is much deeper than just superficial.

Mr. Lang

As my hon. Friend says, the WTO ruled in favour of the European Union in that dispute. I am glad to say that the Japanese Government have accepted the ruling. They are still in negotiation with the EU and the United States and Canada about the final terms of the resolution of the dispute, but I am optimistic that it will be resolved shortly. Thus, in addition to the EU-US deal on spirits, there is also promise in the negotiations on the taxation of whisky in Japan. I hope that that double measure of good cheer will cheer my hon. Friend up as we approach the festive season.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

Did the conference take a position on the trade in armaments with oppressive regimes, such as Burma and Indonesia?

Mr. Lang

No. So far as I am aware, the trade in arms was not discussed at the conference.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that more than half our total export earnings come from countries outside the European Union, and that we run a large balance of payments surplus with those non-EU countries in the so-called invisible trade sector—that is, financial services and investment? If that is so, will my right hon. Friend continue his laudable efforts to liberalise that sector of trade, which would have a much more direct and beneficial influence on our future trade and prosperity than any other project, such as handing over our economic sovereignty to a European central bank?

Mr. Lang

I am not sure that all my hon. Friend's figures are correct. Our trade with Europe is about 60 per cent. of the total. However, our trade with countries outwith Europe, particularly the far east, is expanding very rapidly, and there are major long-term opportunities there. Moreover, we have a balance of trade surplus on the current account figures with every continent except Europe. To that extent, therefore, I can give my hon. Friend some encouragement. We have a global surplus in services of £6 billion, which I think applies in every continent in the world. That is extremely encouraging.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Minister aware that there is another story to be told? All the world trade liberalisation in which the Tory Government have taken part in the past 17 years has resulted in deregulation, in BSE, in longer working hours and in all the other problems that have arisen. Since 1983, it has resulted in a balance of payments deficit; and, in the past six years, under this Government, it has resulted in the doubling of the national debt, to £380 billion. It sounds like a barmy road to me. In the best days of Parliament, in the years after 1945, we had full employment, shorter working hours and regulations. We also had a surplus in our balance of payments. The net result of the Government's proposals is a move towards slave labour economies and towards the lowest common denominators, instead of searching for the highest common factor.

Mr. Lang

Clearly old Labour is still alive and living on the Opposition Benches. I do not recognise the picture painted by the hon. Gentleman. The policies pursued by the Government, including trade liberalisation, have created several years of falling unemployment, which is now more than 3 per cent. below the European average: record-breaking inward investment; rising manufacturing output, creating 150,000 jobs in the past three years; our exports beating records worldwide; and recognition by the OECD that the UK will have the fastest growth rate, not only in the European Union but, next year, among the G7.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I express my appreciation for my right hon. Friend's good work in Singapore and for his encouraging statement? But would not we all be much more encouraged if the objective of total elimination of tariffs and of non-tariff barriers were matched by progress in that sphere by the European Union, most notably in agricultural products? Is not such progress especially desirable as the communiqué set as a further objective special access for less-developed countries, many of which have large agricultural sectors?

Mr. Lang

I agree with my hon. Friend; it is an important subject which must be tackled further. Under the Uruguay round, the situation is due to be reviewed in 1999. Some progress was made in Singapore towards performing work of an analytical and reporting nature, which will be useful in enabling work on further liberalisation of agriculture to occur with more speed in 1999. I hope that the European Union will be a full-hearted participant in that work.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Further to the question of the environment, will the Secretary of State tell us how he now hopes that progress will be made on environmental issues in further negotiations? Specifically, is he confident that such agreements as the Montreal protocol on chlorofluorocarbons, the Basle agreement on hazardous waste, and the London convention on international trade in endangered species will not fall foul of rules on world trade? Does he realise that it is important that we protect the environment, but that we are now putting that goal in conflict with further trade liberalisation?

Mr. Lang

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Those are important issues, and the establishment now of a permanent committee on the environment will enable progress on the issues that he identified and on many others. The United Kingdom Government will be keen a participant in that work.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that—in contrast to the remarks particularly of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinners—the United Kingdom has gained tremendously by inward investment in telecommunications by liberalising the market and encouraging competition? The United States telecommunications market remains in many respects relatively protectionist and at best favours reciprocal agreements. Has progress been made on opening up that market to British products and services?

Mr. Lang

I agree with the premise of my hon. Friend's question. Considerable progress has been made. The final date for an agreement is 15 February 1997. No doubt a great deal of intensive negotiation will be needed then. Provided the will exists—I believe that it does—there must be at least a reasonable prospect of the United States being a full-hearted participant in a final deal. The United States also stands to benefit enormously from the liberalisation of that massive industry.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Like others, I appreciate the President of the Board of Trade's upbeat report on the conference, particularly his welcome for the plan of action for more favourable and predictable access for exports from less-developed countries. Was there much discussion about the imbalance between the costs of production in such countries and the high price of the same goods in developed countries? For example, it might cost £1 to manufacture trainers that sell for £40, £50 or £60 here or in another developed country. Where is the money going? How much can be poured back to help those developing countries to educate their work force?

Mr. Lang

I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point. In the European Council I pressed for recognition of the desirability of accepting zero tariffs on goods from the 48 least developed countries in the world, which account for 0.4 per cent. of world trade. There was not general agreement in the European Union or elsewhere on that. However, I am glad to say that we were able to make progress on giving technical assistance to the least developed countries, on helping them find access to markets, and on assuring them that there is no question, through trade and labour standards or other such measures, of penalising those areas in which they have a competitive advantage. We are keen to help them to exploit their competitive advantages, gain access to our markets and acquire the technology that will enable them to strengthen their position.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

I believe that the United Kingdom is already the most open advanced economy in the world, exporting more per head than the Japanese and more in total than all the Asian tigers put together. If those facts are broadly correct, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, while he holds his post—which I hope he will do for a long time—he will continue to lean against any tendency towards regional mercantilism among our partners on the continent, and will ensure that the World Trade Organisation has all the necessary powers and competencies to stop those tendencies gaining ground?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree with the premise of his question. I also agree with the sentiments that he expressed. The WTO has a committee to deal with regional issues. There has been a substantial increase in the number of regional groupings. There must be a danger that some of those groupings enjoy a distortion of trade and that others are protectionist and inward-looking. It is our purpose to ensure that regional groupings have a multilateral outlook and form building blocks towards the multilateral free trade agenda recognised by the WTO.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

The right hon. Gentleman talked about maximum country co-operation. We all agree with that. Is he aware that China—a country that will play a greatly increasing role in world trade—is not in the World Trade Organisation? What is the right hon. Gentleman's view on the admission of China and encouraging it to enter the WTO?

Mr. Lang

I favour the admission of China, provided that it undertakes to accept the rules and observe them. The WTO already accounts for 90 per cent. of world trade. It has 126 members, but there are also some 30 applicants, of which China is one and Russia is another. I should like those major trading nations, particularly those with massive potential for the next century, to join the WTO, but it is important that they accept the disciplines of the organisation.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

My right hon. Friend and his departmental colleagues deserve congratulation on the leading role that Britain, under their leadership, has played in the success of the Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade and on their successes at the WTO conference in Singapore. However, he cannot rest on his laurels, because there is far too much foot-dragging in our regional grouping, the European Union, on providing proper free trade access into our market, especially for developing countries. Will he bear it in mind that countries in Latin America and elsewhere look to Britain to continue to give a lead in pressing for that from inside the European Union?

Mr. Lang

Yes, and developing countries—and the least developed countries—were grateful for the lead that the United Kingdom gave on core labour standards, on opening up our markets and on increasing the access to trade of the least developed countries. We shall continue that work.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

By what margin do the Japanese propose to reduce their impositions on whisky? Was there any discussion of the on-going Libyan sanctions? As a former Scottish Secretary and the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, the right hon. Gentleman, of all people, knows that there are grave doubts about Lockerbie. Given that the decision-makers in Libya were educated at British universities and technical colleges, is not the damage done by those sanctions to British industry enormous, especially as phase 3 of the great man-made river project is now worth some £10 billion? How is it that the Germans, Italians and South Koreans are trading merrily while British industry is disadvantaged by this American-led policy?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman referred to the D'Amato legislation, which affects Iran and Libya. That was not discussed at the conference. The question of Japanese whisky is still is under negotiation. Japan has yet to reach a final conclusion, but I have indications that the possibility of a substantial reduction in the duty on imported whisky is being contemplated.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) on the liberalisation of telecommunications, will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will do everything in his power to ensure that British Telecom's acquisition of MCI goes ahead? Would not a single market among WTO members—which, as he said, already accounts for 90 per cent. of world trade—make trading blocs such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the EU irrelevant?

Mr. Lang

If we achieved global free trade, regional groupings would become irrelevant. That is why it is important to keep the groupings' eyes on the multilateral agenda and not allow them to become Fortress North America or Fortress Europe. I hope that my hon. Friend understands that it is not appropriate for me to comment on the ambitions abroad of British Telecom.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

The Secretary of State was rather reticent in his description of the problems of child labour and working conditions. What does he seriously propose to do to eliminate child labour throughout the world by the enforcement of ILO conditions? Is he not concerned about the growing death rate in the economic zones of China and throughout south Asia in the new industries which is caused by appalling working conditions, the lack of trade union rights and health and safety legislation, and the enormous profits that British, North American and European companies make from such exploitation?

Mr. Lang

This country defers to no other in its condemnation of child labour and forced labour. We will continue to support the ILO in its efforts, through its conventions and other work, to rid the world of such activity. The WTO recognised that that was not an issue for it. It accepted the view that was advanced by me and by other countries that the best way to raise living standards in poor countries is to do more trade with them.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that world environmental standards can improve on the back of increased prosperity generated by tariff reduction, which must always remain the primary objective of events such as the Singapore conference, but that such matters should remain on the agenda?

Mr. Lang

Yes, I agree. I believe that at Singapore we made major progress towards reducing those tariffs.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Does the President recognise that condemnation of child and bonded labour is, in many people's view, wholly insufficient? Why was not the conference prepared to propose specific action to combat that scourge, including measures to assist poor countries to help children from poor families to receive an education rather than working themselves into a premature grave? Bangladesh, for example, is taking such action, and it would be greatly helped by support from the rich western world in its efforts to give its children an education rather than encouraging them into child labour.

Mr. Lang

I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that Bangladesh was among the leading countries warmly to welcome the stance of the United Kingdom Government on that issue. Bangladesh and other poor countries receive benefit from the United Kingdom, through our overseas aid programme, and they will receive help through the least-developed countries programme and through the International Labour Organisation, the work of which we support. The WTO is a rules-making body, and if it got involved in trade and labour standards, it would end up making rules that would regulate trade with those countries, impose sanctions and restrict trade. That would be the best way of driving them to even more extreme poverty.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

When the World Trade Organisation recognises the International Labour Organisation, is that the equivalent of the social chapter, so that, as world free trade leads to child and slave labour, the ILO will have to take action to combat such arrangements? If that is so, and we are associated with the recognition of the ILO, will the Government stop slagging it off?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman has got it the wrong way round. Free trade and trade liberalisation increase trade, and increased trade is the best way of raising living standards in poor countries. Living standards have improved dramatically in countless countries in the past 30 or 40 years, not through the imposition of sanctions, regulations, controls, embargoes or moratoriums, but through trade liberalisation. That is the best way forward.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

Is not the evidence of the past few years that trade liberalisation—this is not the first time that it has been suggested—has done absolutely nothing to deal with the problems of child and bonded labour? In fact, the number of child labourers is increasing, not decreasing. If that is the evidence of the past few years, why should we expect further liberalisation to make the situation any better?

Mr. Lang

I do not know what statistics the hon. Gentleman can produce in support of his claim, but in my experience every country that has had liberalised trade and has traded more freely with other countries has raised its living standards at all levels of society. That is the trend, and it is visible in countless countries in the far east which are emerging into modern, highly industrialised economies and providing major markets for British goods into the bargain.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

Will the President reflect on the fact that in his opening statement he did not make a single reference to the environment, unless we were to assume that it was covered by anti-competitive practices? In the face of the evidence from development agencies, as well as environmental organisations, that free trade has brought an acceleration in the rate of environmental exploitation, the exploitation of children, child labour and slavery, does he recognise that there will have to be a re-regulation of some markets if ethical standards are to be imposed on the global trading area?

Will the President also comment on the criticism that is emerging from the developing nations about one aspect that is protected in the WTO agreement: intellectual property rights? At the moment, global corporations have the right to patent genetic lines for seeds, crops, animals and trees—and even for whole tribes—in the developing world.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman will have heard what I said in answer to an earlier question on intellectual property rights, concerning the reinforcement of the arrangements in the Uruguay round.

I did not mention the environment in my opening statement because there were so many items of positive good news to mention that I did not have time to cover everything. Again, as I said in an earlier answer, some positive progress was made on the environment, and we must build on that.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

Can the President confirm that the most authoritative recent study shows that child labour has doubled in the past 10 years, particularly in its most odious form of sexual exploitation for business purposes? That is why the United States, third-world Churches, non-governmental organisations and European countries wanted the WTO to discuss the matter. His opposition to that is a mark of shame for our country. Before he hides behind the ILO, will he confirm that it wants the WTO to discuss the matter? Will he also confirm that ILO discussion is meaningless without sanctions and that 18 months ago the Government wanted to withdraw from the organisation? To shelter behind the ILO is pure pre-Christmas hypocrisy.

Mr. Lang

I am not sheltering behind the ILO. The hon. Gentleman makes assertions about figures on child labour without a shred of evidence to support them. Trade liberalisation is raising standards and improving employment conditions in the emerging countries. I am in no doubt about that, and the vast majority of countries that were represented at Singapore shared that view. It is the right way forward, rather than going down the route of imposing sanctions.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that his statement on tariffs on information components applies equally to finished products and partly assembled units? Will such tariffs act consequentially to provide the transparency that he described? Will they result in changes to tax regimes here, and should we therefore expect a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Given the Secretary of State's statement on the amount of data that will flow through our telecoms systems, does he agree that, should the Geneva discussions on intellectual property rights not reach a fruitful conclusion in the near future, the matter must be a subject of the next trade round?

Mr. Lang

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the issue of intellectual property rights must be carried further. There are substantial advantages to be gained by this country—among others—if measures are better implemented to reduce piracy of intellectual property. The information technology agreement covers such products as computer hardware and software, semiconductors, integrated circuits, passive components, multi-media equipment, and so on. It does not cover consumer electronics. The savings that will flow are from the tariffs on imports and exports, which will flow to the European Union. I do not therefore envisage my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor making an announcement. The reduction in the cost of the products will be beneficial to everybody who uses them as well as those who make them.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

The President of the Board of Trade touched lightly on the Uruguay round and the fact that there are so many loose ends yet to be tied up—on agriculture, financial services, maritime services, professional services and anti-dumping among others. Will he confirm that it is important to tie up those loose ends before we move to new multilateral trade negotiations in a few years' time?

Mr. Lang

It is indeed important to tie up those loose ends, conclude what has been agreed and, if possible, make further and faster progress. There was good progress on the built-in programme at Singapore, but we should not preoccupy ourselves with looking backwards to Uruguay, important though that was. We should also be able to focus on the forward momentum that I believe we have with the new work programme and the information technology and telecommunications deals, as well as the prospect of building towards a new round, which I hope will be announced before the end of the century.