HC Deb 15 May 1996 vol 277 cc934-5
5. Mrs. Lait

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the role and functions of the World Trade Organisation. [28360]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Anthony Nelson)

The World Trade Organisation provides the legal and institutional foundation of the multilateral trading system, providing a framework of obligations governing trade between its members. It is a forum for further development of the multilateral trading system, and provides a mechanism for settling trade disputes.

Mrs. Lait

If the country were not a member of the European Union, would we not have to negotiate the end of the worldwide beef ban at the World Trade Organisation? Would that not take a long time?

Mr. Nelson

My hon. Friend is quite right. The disputes resolution procedure of the WTO is long and uncertain. The Government's efforts to resolve the BSE trade-related issues are directed to persuading our European partners to lift the ban and to have bilateral discussions with third parties to try to ensure that they lift their bans on imports. That must be the quickest and most effective way of resolving the crisis, for which there is no scientific justification. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point.

Mr. Bell

We live in hope that the ban on our beef will be lifted before the WTO holds its first annual meeting in December. May I welcome the Minister for Trade back to the House from his various travels on behalf of our country? According to the gracious homily that appeared in The Times on Saturday, he spends one week a month here. We are grateful to have him at the Dispatch Box this week.

In his eloquent speech this morning, President Chirac talked about a social model for Europe. Irrespective of the comments of the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs, would it not be appropriate to have a social model for the WTO? That was left out of the so-called Uruguay round of the GATT negotiations. Would it not be appropriate to have basic levels of employment rights throughout the trading world, regardless of the situation in each trading country?

Mr. Nelson

I am grateful for the kind sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman, and for those that appeared in The Times. It is rather nice to read something pleasant for once about a Conservative Minister in that newspaper.

The hon. Gentleman is the shadow spokesman on trade and, presumably, aspires to becoming Trade Minister. Frankly, it is extraordinary for him to talk about importing into the new trade order a social chapter that would be so damaging to this country. Has he learnt nothing from the example that is on our doorstep? The Government's attitude to the issue was clearly spelt out by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. Our priorities are to have a successful and liberalising meeting in Singapore, to embark on another trade round and to ensure that we move towards free trade by 2020. That is an agenda for business—the hon. Gentleman's agenda would destroy business in this country and abroad.

Mr. Thomason

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, in considering their policies on the WTO and the impending conference in Singapore, the Government will take account of global environmental issues and treat them as part of the core policy matters?

Mr. Nelson

Yes indeed. I know of the deep interest that my hon. Friend takes in this matter on the Select Committee; I was pleased to give him that assurance this morning at a meeting of that Committee, and I do so again now. Although the agenda for Singapore will be principally concerned with further trade liberalisation measures, the environmental subtext will also be extremely important.

We see no incompatibility between measures that will provide for sustainable global development and measures that will further liberalise world trade. We believe that the two should go hand in hand, and we shall be in the vanguard of those forcefully arguing for that in Singapore.

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