HL Deb 28 June 1990 vol 520 cc1727-8

3.22 p.m.

Lord Jay asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking in the GATT Uruguay Round negotiations to ensure that major reforms of the common agricultural policy are accepted by the EC so that an agreement beneficial to world trade may be achieved.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, all parties to the GATT Round negotiations have agreed the long-term objective. It is to provide: substantial progressive reductions in agricultural support and protection sustained over an agreed period of time, resulting in correcting and preventing restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets". The UK is working hard with our EC partners to develop the Community's aggregate measure approach. Intensive negotiations are taking place in Geneva to agree a framework to meet the long-term objectives.

Lord Jay

My Lords, since major reforms of the protectionist common agricultural policy are fully as much in the interests of this country as of the food exporting nations and the GATT negotiations generally, why does our Minister of Agriculture appear to support the EC in declining to make serious concessions?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I say to the noble Lord "Watch my lips". I would remind him that the UK is a member of the EC. We have strongly supported—indeed we have initiated—the present EC policy and proposals.

Lord Stoddard of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that most of us would prefer to watch her actions and the actions of the Government rather than watching her lips? It is absolutely certain that by supporting the EC policy on agriculture—which is protectionist—the Government are not only harming other world producers, particularly those in underdeveloped countries, but also harming our own farming communities. Is the noble Baroness aware that over the past 20 years, 25 per cent. of British farmers have gone out of business and another 25 per cent. are likely to do so in the next 20 years unless something is done about the CAP?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I dispute the remarks about our farmers going out of business on account of the CAP. Regarding benefits for less developed countries, it is recognised that special treatment of developing countries is an integral element of the negotiations. Reform of agricultural policies worldwide will, however, lead to more stable trading conditions. This will encourage the development of agriculture in less developed countries.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the Community's proposals for a re-balancing in the GATT negotiations whereby the Community would reduce its protection for grains in return for increases in protection for oilseeds and non-grain feedstuffs would reduce the level of agricultural disparities as well as reducing the Community's budget costs? Is she further aware that these proposals could also lead to greater stability in world grain prices?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, re-balancing would mean an increase in protection against certain imports—for instance, as the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, said, oilseeds and cereal substitutes—offset by a reduction in protection elsewhere, for example, on cereals. The United Kingdom's doubts as to whether an acceptable package can be negotiated are well known and it is too soon to say what might emerge.

Lord Jay

My Lords, I am delighted to watch the noble Baroness's lips—at arm's length. Does she agree that it would be most unfortunate if obstinacy on this issue were to wreck the GATT negotiations altogether?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I agree that it is not obstinacy that is needed but a general agreement on the art of the possible in the future.

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