HL Deb 22 March 1999 vol 598 cc955-6

2.48 p.m.

Lord Sandberg asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether any progress has been made in persuading the Export Credits Guarantee Department to reinstate Cuba as an insurable risk for British exporters.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, Export Credits Guarantee Department cover is available for United Kingdom project exports to Cuba provided payment is made from foreign currency funds held outside Cuba. A senior ECGD delegation recently visited Cuba to explore the scope for expanding this cover and resolving outstanding debt issues. Good progress was made with the Cuban authorities on both issues.

Lord Sandberg

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, I am sure he is aware that the Spanish, Germans and Canadians are queuing up in Cuba to the detriment of British exports. Will the forthcoming visit by Mr Brian Wilson of the DTI cover those points?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, Brian Wilson will indeed visit Cuba again; he was there before Christmas. The occasion of his next visit is the opening of the British Airways direct route to Cuba. No doubt he will cover these issues as well. We are aware of the other countries which have succeeded in embarking on turnkey deals—for example, in airport construction or tourist industries. But they depend on a line of credit which produces revenue from outside Cuba; in other words, hard currency revenue, as I indicated in my first Answer.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I welcome what has been done through the ECGD to seek improvements for our exporters to Cuba. Can the Minister assure us that negotiations are continuing? No doubt the visit of the noble Lord's honourable friend, Mr Brian Wilson, in conjunction with the BA direct route, is intended to increase trade. Will this most important issue, which is holding up British trade, be pursued vigorously?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I pay tribute to her work as chairman of the Caribbean trade advisory group. As she well knows, one difficulty we have is that there are outstanding short, medium and long-term debts due from Cuba. We are pursuing vigorously the issue of repayment of short-term debts through the private market and of longer-term debts through the Paris Club. If and when those questions are resolved, many other matters will fall into place and trade will be easier.