HL Deb 27 April 1998 vol 589 cc7-9

2.55 p.m.

Lord Judd

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In relation to their commitment to give priority to the defeat of world poverty in their overseas development programmes, what progress has been made in the preparations for the renewal of the Lomé Agreement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, a draft negotiating mandate setting out the EU's position on the successor to the Lomé Convention will be discussed at the EU Development Council on 18th May. As presidency, we hope that this mandate will be agreed in the EU General Affairs Council in June. Poverty eradication will be at the heart of the EU's position. Formal negotiations between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries party to the Lomé Convention are due to begin in September.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. However, are the Government satisfied with the Commission's current trade proposals or do they have any anxiety lest they contradict the poverty eradication targets? Is it realistic to expect, as currently proposed, SADC, covering southern Africa, and Caricom, covering the Caribbean, to enter into free trade agreements with the European Union within six years? They will be competing with much stronger economies. By contrast, what progress is being made with the Department for International Development's proposals for an improved generalised scheme of preferences?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as the House knows and as was made clear in the Government's White Paper, for which the Department for International Development was responsible, the eradication of poverty lies at the heart of the negotiations which the Government, along with the rest of the EU governments, will be addressing. The key target remains to halve absolute poverty by the year 2015. That is achievable; it is affordable; and the Government believe it to be morally right. However, our position will be affected in the negotiations by the review taking place on 18th May. We hope that we can adopt the negotiating position of the EU in the General Affairs Council on 8th June and that thereafter, in September, we will be able to begin negotiations with the 71 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries involved.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, can the Minister say whether, in the formulation of this policy, the needs of business and private investment were looked at, considering that they form such an important part of poverty eradication?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government clearly acknowledge in the White Paper, published by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development at the end of last year, the need and indeed the vital part that business and the private sector can play in poverty eradication. Those proposals were put forward and will be borne in mind in our negotiations.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, are the Government sufficiently advocating the concerns of traditional friends? For example, is the Minister aware that the Caribbean statistically has a relatively high level of per capita income, yet significant pockets of poverty exist with governments unable to allocate sufficient resources as a safety net?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I said, poverty eradication lies at the heart of what we are doing. Having said that, the Government are particularly sensitive to the needs of our "traditional friends", as the noble Viscount described them. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs clearly made that point in the Caribbean forum held in Nassau in the second week of February this year. He made it clear to our friends from the Caribbean that their interests will be very much at the heart of our negotiations.

Lord Judd

My Lords, will my noble friend accept that, while we all applaud and endorse the Government's commitment to fight the battle for the eradication of poverty, it is not just a matter of programmes and development assistance? It is also a matter of relevant trade policies. There is real anxiety that some of the proposals put forward, not by our own Government but by the Commission, may be counter-productive in this context, not least for the Caribbean and southern Africa. Can the Minister assure us that that will be rigorously looked at?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Lomé Convention covers aid, trade and political relations. All those will have to be looked at. At the moment we are in the middle of negotiations with our European colleagues. Thereafter we will be in negotiation with the ACP countries. I do not believe that in any negotiation, having stated the Government's policy, it is sensible or wise to try to negotiate through a loudhailer. Our best position is to stick to the principles that I outlined to the House and do our best to pursue those with our colleagues in the European Union and thereafter with the ACP countries.

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