HC Deb 27 January 2000 vol 343 cc567-8
8. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

What progress he has made in persuading the UK's EU partners to fulfil their commitment to allow tariff- and quota-free access for all exports from the world's 48 poorest countries. [105756]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Caborn)

The European Union commitment is to provide duty-free access for essentially all products from the least-developed countries by 2005 at the latest. We expect the European Commission soon to make proposals aimed at implementing that commitment, giving both tariff- and quota-free access. More generally, the Government will continue to call for zero tariffs to be applied to all goods from the least-developed countries, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised in his speech at the Mansion House on 22 November 1999.

Joan Ruddock

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that tariff- and quota-free market access for the poorest countries should include all exports, and that there should not be exclusions on the grounds of any sensitivity? Does he also agree that there is no reason why those small concessions could not be made immediately, and that there should be no attempt to include them in any further trade rounds?

Mr. Caborn

That is exactly the British Government's position and what we are trying to negotiate with the European Union. As I said, the Prime Minister stated the British Government's position on the issue in his Mansion House speech, and we have to convince our European Union partners to accept that position. Arguably, however, the European Union already offers probably the most generous preferential terms for developing countries. Nevertheless, I agree with my hon. Friend that we have to go that extra mile, and we shall be pushing very hard to do just that.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Does the Minister agree that by far the best way of helping poor countries out of poverty is to enable them freely to export their goods to our markets? Will he condemn those who weep crocodile tears for the poorest countries, but spend all their time dreaming up ways of restricting their imports into the countries of the developed world on grounds that free trade is not in their view fair trade?

Mr. Caborn

Yes. The Government's commitment on tariffs and quotas has been laid out by the Prime Minister, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been working with the International Monetary Fund on trying to relieve the debt of the heavily indebted countries. We want to ensure that the least-developed countries have sustainable economies, and one of the prerequisites in achieving that is to provide those countries with access to markets such as the European Union.

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