HL Deb 20 November 1991 vol 532 cc891-3

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in discussions in the Uruguay Round of the GATT.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, over the past few months considerable progress has been made towards a successful conclusion to the Uruguay Round. Negotiators are close to agreement on many issues. Where difficulties remain—notably on agriculture—much has been done to narrow down the options. We hope that all participants will now work to resolve outstanding differences and to make the final compromises necessary to ensure a successful outcome by the end of the year.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can he give any indication of the likely date for agreement being reached? Also, can he confirm that rigidity on the part of the European Commission will not inhibit necessary adaptations and reductions in the CAP required for the agreement?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I cannot give any specific date. As I said in my Answer, we hope to reach agreement by the end of the year. With regard to the Commission's attitude, we are all aware that the success of the agriculture negotiations are crucial to the success of the Round itself. All parties, including the Commission, committed themselves to reductions in three of the most important areas; that is, internal support, market access and export subsidies.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the compromises he speaks of will not include acceptance of a modulation which will mean the support of small inefficient farmers in Europe at the expense of the efficient farmers in Britain?

Lord Henley

My Lords, that goes slightly beyond the Question on the Order Paper. The agreement will obviously need to consider the interests of all farmers, just as it will need to consider the interests of all other interested bodies who may be affected by the outcome of the negotiations.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the House will be grateful to him for putting into its proper context the role of the Commission in these matters? Indeed, a tribute should he paid to President Delors for the active role he has taken in helping to facilitate a successful negotiation.

Is the Minister aware also that failure of the Uruguay Round would signpost the way to a disastrous series of "beggar thy neighbour" policies which nobody can afford, least of all developing countries? In that regard, can the Minister give an assurance to the House that the Government support the need for concessions to be made to developing countries? For example, they could be given exemptions and privileges for a fixed period of time to help them overcome the difficulties of coping with a system of liberalised world trade.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that failure in the negotiations would be disastrous. It would not only risk losing the stimulus that success would bring, but also risk a slide-back into protectionism and managed trade. As the noble Lord will agree, that would be disastrous. With regard to developing countries in the third world, we accept that special provision will be necessary for the least developed of those countries. But we should like to see all countries taking on commitments commensurate with their level of development.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Scotch whisky industry is particularly interested in the agriculture part of the negotiations, which involve trade in spirits and other alcoholic beverages? Can he assure the House that the Government and the European Commission will be working hard in those negotiations to ensure the removal of unfair excise and import duties, in particular non-tariff barriers against spirits? Will he specifically look at the problems of what are called the 27 top priority GATT countries, which are defined by the Commission as the countries in which the Scotch whisky industry has a great interest in ensuring that the barriers which inhibit trade are removed?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I note my noble friend's interest in Scotch whisky, which many of us share. We have consistently supported the Scotch Whisky Association's position on the issue. The Government are well aware of the importance of gaining improved access to third country markets for Scotch whisky producers and, for that matter, for other spirit producers.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, will the noble Lord indicate whether this important issue will be raised at the forthcoming Maastricht Conference? If so, will he confirm that the British Government's view will be firmly that the Community in the future should be outward looking?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I imagine that it will be a matter that will arise at Maastricht. It is a matter of importance. I am sure that we all agree with the noble Lord that the Community should be outward looking in the future. That is the reason I tried earlier to stress the importance of a successful outcome to the negotiations.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I cannot join with my noble friend on the Front Bench in his eulogy of M. Jacques Delors, the president of the Commission, especially after his remarks to the European Parliament yesterday? Is he further aware that I am encouraged by the progress that is being made? Bearing in mind that it costs the British family £16 a week extra in food prices, can the Minister say, as the result of what one hopes will be successful negotiations at the end of the year, when British consumers can expect lower prices?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not believe that there is any direct answer that I can give to the noble Lord's second question. I note that he does not agree with his noble friend in his attitude to M. Delors. I somehow expected that.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that a GATT committee has reported that the US-Canadian free trade agreement which has been recently concluded may create difficulties for GATT and for the Uruguay Round? Can the Minister say whether the Government have any view oil that matter?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I was not aware of the GATT committee's view. I shall certainly look into the matter and perhaps write to the noble Lord.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that to some of us it is a trifle disturbing that he is unable to give any indication as to when it is likely that agreement will be reached? In view of the long delay which has already elapsed in the early stages of the discussions, will my noble friend confirm that the Government regard it as a matter of some urgency to bring them to a reasonably speedy conclusion?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I believe I made it clear that we very much hope to reach agreement by the end of this year. I also said that we would consider it disastrous if we were unable to reach agreement. However, it is obvious that when different parties are trying to reach agreement one cannot give a specific time as to when that will be achieved, other than to say that we shall try to do so by the end of this year. As regards the long delay, I can only repeat what my noble friend Lord Caithness said in the debate on the Address, that one of the missed opportunities last year was that we did not reach a successful conclusion to the Uruguay Round.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, can the Minister say what action the Government will take if food prices go up?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I believe that to be another question.

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