HC Deb 12 May 1999 vol 331 cc299-300
1. Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset)

What assessment she has made of the likely impact on Caribbean economies of United States demands for changes to the EU banana regime. [82947]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

May I explain that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is at the annual meeting of the Caribbean development bank, so I am here on my own today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."J I hope that I can manage.

The World Trade Organisation arbitration panel has concluded that the European Union's new banana regime is not compatible with World Trade Organisation rules. Its report made some suggestions as to how the Caribbean banana trade can be supported within the rules. We are undertaking detailed work on the best possible banana regime for the Caribbean that is compatible with World Trade Organisation rules.

Mr. Walter

One third of the Windward islands work force—about 70,000 people—is involved in the banana trade, and the United States enjoys a very favourable trade balance in other food products with similar economies. Will the Secretary of State say what discussions she has had with her counterparts in Washington about how the United States plans to aid such economies if their trade negotiators are successful?

Clare Short

I have not discussed these matters with representatives of the United States Government, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has. The President of the United States has said that his Government would be anxious to provide some help to the Caribbean. This morning, I met high commissioners and ambassadors from the Caribbean.

What we have to do, despite the bruised feelings, is find a good regime that is World Trade Organisation compatible, so that we can drive on with assisting the Caribbean and especially the Windward islands which, as the hon. Gentleman said, are highly dependent. They need reform to be more effective, and people's livelihoods will be at risk if we do not succeed in finding a suitable regime. What would be dangerous to us all would be a rise in drug smuggling in the Caribbean.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Many Labour Members believe that the United States has behaved disgracefully over the legitimate concern raised by the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter). The head of the Chiquita Banana Company has made huge contributions to President Clinton and others. Do not the Americans, in their attitude to the interests of the people of the Windward islands, come out of this very badly?

Clare Short

My hon. Friend makes his own point. The World Trade Organisation is a rules-based organisation to which we have all signed up. Caribbean member states have decided to join it for their own benefit. The United States, for whatever reason, has invoked the rules and, disappointingly, the arbitration panel has said that the new EU regime has to be modified. So, despite all the bruised feelings, we have to find a way forward that is compatible with the World Trade Organisation. That is what we are working on now.

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