HL Deb 03 December 2001 vol 629 cc581-3

3 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome in relation to international development of the Doha World Trade Organisation meeting.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the ministerial declaration launched a development-focused trade round which we believe offers the best route for the developing world to escape from poverty. In addition, the WTO ministerial conference agreed a decision on implementation-related issues and concerns to address many of the matters raised by developing countries over the operation of existing WTO agreements, and a declaration on the TRIPS agreement and public health which clarifies the action which WTO members can take to secure access to essential medicines during public health crises.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I thank my nolble friend for that positive Answer; indeed, I congratulate her on the part played by the Government in securing a fairly good round at WTO. In connection with intellectual property and health, does the Minister agree that it is rather regrettable that the declaration which would prevent poorer countries being deprived of access to cheaper medicines is political rather than legally binding?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her kind congratulations, but I regret that I cannot agree with the purport of her question. The declaration on TRIPS and public health was a breakthrough. Skilful negotiation has ensured that we have found a way to balance the incentives for research and development to protect the health of future generations and the public health of the present generation. I draw to the attention of my noble friend the observation of Oxfam on 15th November 2001 that the declaration was, a big step forward in the battle for affordable medicine".

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the first priority in any new round of WTO talks must be the welfare of the poorest nations of the world, perhaps an increase in their trade and certainly an improvement in the fairness of the terms of that trade, but that in aggregate an increase in trade, especially of unnecessary freight and food miles, will have a serious impact on the environment and climate change and therefore is to be resisted? Does the noble Baroness also agree that imports of primary products into this country from low-wage economies and those with low standards of animal welfare will further damage the interests of UK farmers? How do the Government believe it is possible—if it is—to reconcile this complex conflict of interests, and where do their real priorities lie?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I indicated, together with their colleagues in the WTO the Government believed that it was very important in this trade round to emphasise that it was concerned with development. That was where we concentrated most of our fire. Before we went to Doha I invited every one of the Commonwealth high commissioners to see me. If we are successful in the negotiations that flow from Doha we hope to be able to lift some 300 million people out of poverty as a result of halving the tariffs in trade around the world and, consequently, approximately 150 billion dollars should go to developing countries. The right reverend Prelate raises a huge number of other issues. This agreement covers so many different issues that all of us must prioritise what comes first. We must balance what is important to the United Kingdom, including our agricultural community, and developing countries. We hope to discuss that as the development round continues.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, has my noble friend seen some of the evidence submitted to your Lordships' Committee on Economic Affairs on the question of globalisation which was discussed at great length in Doha? That evidence shows that while globalisation generally has been of considerable importance to developing countries the very poorest have not been helped that much. What do Her Majesty's Government have in mind to help?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, of the 142 countries which were able to reach agreement in Doha approximately two-thirds were developing countries. Of the 38 countries which have applied to join the WTO, the majority are developing or least developed countries. I suggest to your Lordships that the least developed and developing countries believe that there are benefits to be gained from joining the World Trade Organisation. In addition, the United Kingdom has increased the capacity that it has resourced for developing countries to argue for what they believe to be important in the WTO. My right honourable friend Clare Short was able to make that announcement which was of very great importance to us before we went to Doha.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, does the Minister recall that when she made a Statement to the House on 15th November I observed that on an earlier occasion Commissioner Lamy had defended farm subsidies and asked whether there was any truth in the suggestion that the French had signed the declaration only after they had been given assurances that it would not prejudice the outcome of the farm trade talks? Is the noble Baroness now in a position to give me an answer to that question? Can she tell the House whether there was any understanding, either formal or informal, with the French about agricultural subsidies?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I cannot claim to have been at every single point where people may have had discussions in the corridors, or to know exactly what was said by every person who took part in the negotiations, but I can tell the noble Baroness that the agricultural section of the WTO declaration of Doha commits members, to comprehensive negotiations aimed at: 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". I believe that that is a considerable step forward. I am delighted that we have been able to agree it, although I freely acknowledge that the agreement came more readily from some than others.