HC Deb 10 February 1998 vol 306 cc135-6
9. Mr. Blizzard

If he will make a statement on the recent state visit of the President of Brazil. [26438]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Doug Henderson)

The state visit by the President of Brazil was a significant milestone in the steady strengthening of UK-Brazil relations in recent years. The clear, highest-level commitment to the further development of our relations was demonstrated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Cardoso in signing a joint action plan identifying key areas for future co-operation.

Mr. Blizzard

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply; it is clear that relations between Brazil and Britain are the best they have been for many years. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a reflection of the consolidation of democracy in Brazil, where the President was freely elected with more than 50 per cent. of the vote, and of the tremendous trading opportunities between our two countries, with each seeing the other as the gateway to a larger market—the European Union in Europe and Mercosur in south America? In view of that and of the fact that Brazil's is the seventh largest economy in the world, would my hon. Friend consider making an official visit to Brazil in the near future? Would he also be willing to ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make a bilateral official visit to that country, the first bilateral official visit to Brazil ever made by a British Prime Minister?

Mr. Henderson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. It is important steadily to build relations with Brazil, because it is a large country with a huge potential export market for our manufacturers. As part of our export forum programme, an export forum will be established in Brazil to try to boost that trade.

The question of a prime ministerial visit is a matter for the Prime Minister, and he no doubt discussed that with the President of Brazil. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), who normally deals with such matters, has already been to Brazil and visited his counterpart. He has also received his counterpart here, as the beginning of the process of building relationships.

Mr. Wilkinson

Following the most successful and welcome visit by His Excellency the President of Brazil to this country, will the present Government continue the "link up with Latin America" programme of the Department of Trade and Industry, sponsored by the previous Administration, with particular emphasis on the Mercosur countries of Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil—of course—and, last but not least, Chile, which is associated with Mercosur? All those countries have economies that have greatly reformed and offer remarkable opportunities for British business.

Mr. Henderson

I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is important that we build trade links throughout south America. Huge and increasing markets are potentially available to our manufacturers, and democracy is increasingly becoming established in those countries. I met the Foreign Ministers of Mercosur in New York in September and many of those issues were under discussion. I hope that we will continue to press them.

Mr. Corbyn

During the meetings with the representatives of Brazil, did my hon. Friend have a chance to discuss the rapid deforestation of the Amazonian rain forest and the problems that that poses for the world's climate and environment? Did he also have an opportunity to discuss the denial of human rights to many of the indigenous people of the Amazonian rain forest, who have seen their land and rivers polluted by illegal mining activities, often conducted with western finance and by western companies?

Mr. Henderson

Those matters were discussed by my hon. Friend the Minister of State when he visited Brazil and when he received the Foreign Minister here. My hon. Friend took up the question as part of the dialogue. The need to help the Brazilian Government to realign their agricultural industry was also part of those discussions and we are currently involved in a bilateral agreement with the Brazilians to the sum of £16 million. We have given them £6.5 million in aid to help the diversification process, and we hope that that will benefit the environment.