HC Deb 11 July 2002 vol 388 cc1024-6
5. Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

What action her Department is taking to reduce barriers to trade in agricultural produce. [66371]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt)

We are working with our partners in the European Union and the World Trade Organisation to deliver the Doha development agendas, which commits us to substantial improvements in market access; reductions of, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies; and substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support.

In parallel, of course, we are pressing within the European Union for significant reform of the common agricultural policy.

Mr. Osborne

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. She will be aware that while the developed world spends £50 billion on aid to developing countries, we also spend £250 billion on agricultural subsidies and on tariff barriers which shut the poorest countries of the world out of our markets. I would agree with the right hon. Lady that we should practise what we preach when it comes to free trade and open markets. Will she assure me that the British Government will do all that they can not to let other European Governments—particularly the French Government at the moment—stop proper reform of the CAP and to pursue that agenda through the WTO?

Ms Hewitt

I am entirely in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. We welcome the publication earlier this week of the European Commission's mid-term review document on agricultural support. It will certainly form a good basis for discussion within the European Union, which reflects United Kingdom thinking on many topics but does not go as far as we would like. However, we will continue to argue very strongly within the European Union for a shift away from subsidies that are linked to production, to income support for farmers that is linked directly to environmental maintenance, and to a slashing—indeed, elimination—of the appalling export subsidies that do so much damage to farmers in developing countries. I am very glad that we shall have the support of at least the hon. Gentleman, and I hope his party, in pursuing those very important reforms.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough)

In discussions between the all-party third world debt group this week and high commissioners from west Africa and other countries in the region, it was clear that, despite all the efforts that we are making on debt relief and on aid, the crucial difference that will be made for these countries will be by our giving them free access to western European markets, particularly for goods that are both produced and have value added in those countries. I understand that the negotiations will take some time, but will my right hon. Friend ensure that real urgency will be put into them? The situation facing Africa as a whole is so urgent that, unless things are done in months rather than years, many will suffer as a consequence.

Ms Hewitt

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's points. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been pushing and working immensely hard for a new partnership for Africa that will include not only access for African producers to markets in the west—following the example of the European Union's everything but arms initiative—but will also encourage Governments in those developing countries to pull down the tariff and trade barriers that they apply against other developing countries. There is huge scope there for greater trade. I also agree that there is an enormous responsibility on the European Union, as we are the biggest provider of agricultural subsidies in the world, and we must stop that.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

What action have the Government taken to promote fair trade in agricultural produce within the United Kingdom, which would provide the primary producers of agricultural products with cost of production and some fair reward for their investment in labour, which wholesalers and retailers can achieve with much less risk than primary producers?

Ms Hewitt

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. As he will be aware, the whole issue of the relationship between the supermarkets in particular and the producers in the farming community has been considered extensively by the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission. We now have a code of practice agreed by the retailers with the Office of Fair Trading that is designed to give the producers of our food a much fairer deal in that marketplace.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)

Can I urge the Secretary of State to do as much as she can to abolish the common agricultural policy, not only to ensure that imports are allowed from the developing world and to cut the costs of living for families in this country—each of whom pay more than £20 a week in additional food costs—but to try to reduce the dependency culture that we have built up among farmers?

Ms Hewitt

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that radical reform of the common agricultural policy will deliver enormous benefits to our consumers, benefits to farmers and rural communities, and, as we have been saying, real benefits to farmers and communities in some of the poorest countries of the world.