HC Deb 16 May 2000 vol 350 cc138-9
5. Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble)

What steps he is taking to promote trade with and economic development in southern African countries. [120874]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend on his successful visit to Botswana and his discussions at the headquarters of the Southern Africa Development Community. Through British Trade International, we continue to alert British business to the many commercial opportunities in southern Africa, including a major three-year trade and investment campaign for South Africa.

Mr. Borrow

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the effects of the illicit diamond trade in southern Africa? Is he aware that Mr. Sankoh, the leader of the rebellion in Sierra Leone, was recently planning a diamond deal in southern Africa to fund his murderous campaign?

Madam Speaker

Order. The question is about southern Africa.

Mr. Borrow

I was asking my hon. Friend whether he was aware of the role of the illicit diamond trade in southern Africa. I was giving a current example of the contact between the rebel leader in Sierra Leone and diamond dealers in South Africa, which is enabling Mr. Sankoh to fund his murderous rebellion in Sierra Leone. Does not that demonstrate that the Government's policy of campaigning against blood diamonds is correct and the role of British troops in Sierra Leone should be supported?

Mr. Hain

I agree with my hon. Friend and congratulate him on his ingenuity and expertise in raising this important matter. There are many important diamond operations in southern Africa—in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana—that contribute enormously to the economic success of those countries. We back them, but we totally oppose the blood diamond trade in places such as Angola and Sierra Leone because it continues to fuel the conflicts in those regions. That is why we are pressing for an international self-certification scheme by the diamond trade, backed by Governments, to stop the trade in blood diamonds and ensure that dreadful conflicts such as the one that we are seeking to resolve in Sierra Leone at the moment are not perpetuated. It is the diamond trade that keeps them going.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Can the Minister describe the new arrangements that he, the Foreign Office and Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry are making for the promotion of trade with southern Africa?

Mr. Hain

Through British Trade International, which is a freshly launched agency, we are taking several initiatives to promote such trade and investment. In a recent speech in Durban—sorry, in Cape Town—[Interruption.] I shall make a speech on the economic opportunities for trade and investment in southern Africa in Durban next month, if the Opposition can contain themselves. Those initiatives are partly why President Mbeki is visiting London with South African ministerial colleagues, including the Trade Minister, in the next few days for a high-level meeting.

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