HL Deb 15 November 2001 vol 628 cc683-91

3.36 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation in Doha, which concluded yesterday. I was joined in the delegation by my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for International Development, the Minister for the Environment and my noble friend the Minister for Trade.

"I am delighted to report a successful outcome—the Doha Development Agenda—which combines the launch of a broad new round of trade negotiations with a package of measures focused specifically on the needs of developing countries. At the same time, we have welcomed two new important new members—China and Chinese Taipei—into the WTO. These are landmark achievements, the economic and political importance of which cannot be overstated.

"Launching a new world trade round has always been a key priority for the United Kingdom Government and our European Union partners—an outcome that we were even more determined to achieve following the atrocities of 11th September.

"In the last few days we have seen significant progress in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. At the same time, nations have come together in Doha to agree a major step forward in the war on poverty, demonstrating that the nations of the world are determined to strengthen security by sharing prosperity.

"By stimulating economic growth, a development-focused trade round offers the best opportunity to people in developing countries to escape from poverty. And with the downturn in the world economy, this historic deal gives a badly needed boost to economic confidence.

"The package we have agreed brings real benefits to developing countries—benefits for which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has long been pressing. We have opened greater access to the medicines that developing countries need to deal with HIV/AIDS and other serious health crises, through clarification of the existing rules. We have ensured that the European Union will continue to give preferential treatment to imports from Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries—an issue of enormous concern to over 50 of our WTO colleagues, including some of the poorest.

"We have agreed on steps—both immediately and in the next year—which address developing countries' concerns over the implementation of previous WTO agreements. We reaffirmed the importance of building developing countries' capacity to participate in the global trading system, and emphasised the need for capacity building to be an integral part of the new negotiations.

"A new round opens the prospect of increased trade in agriculture, other goods and services—trade which is the most secure path to economic progress for developing countries. Halving trade protection in both developing and the developed countries would boost the wealth of developing countries by around 150 billion dollars a year—about three times what they receive each year in development aid. And for the least developed countries we have agreed the objective of duty and quota-free access for their products—extending the principle of the European Union's Everything But Arms agreement to other WTO members.

"For developing and developed countries alike, the Doha agreement will provide a significant new push in a number of areas of great importance to the United Kingdom. The new trade round will open up trade in agriculture and give a real boost to the reform of the common agricultural policy. In particular, we have agreed to negotiate on reductions of export subsidies with a view to phasing them out. This adds to the pressure which the European Union already faces from the prospect of enlargement and strengthens our hand in moving ahead with CAP reform—a longstanding United Kingdom objective, now within our sights.

"We reaffirmed the importance of sustainable development and for the first time we agreed to negotiate within the WTO on environmental issues, in particular the relationship between multilateral environmental agreements and WTO rules. This was a key objective for the United Kingdom and our EU colleagues. We agreed important first steps towards negotiations to help investment flow more freely between countries and to tackle cartels and other anti-competitive business practices. We reaffirmed the importance of internationally recognised core labour standards. The ILO leads on that issue, but it is essential that the WTO contributes to the work of the ILO on the social dimensions of globalisation.

"We also agreed negotiations in a number of other important areas including market access and industrial tariffs, transparency of government procurement and trade facilitation aimed at cutting customs procedures red tape. We took decisions on the next stages of the ongoing negotiations on services and continuing work on e-commerce.

"These new trade negotiations will be good for British business and good for British consumers. As the world's fifth largest trader, the potential benefits of further trade liberalisation are considerable. Halving trade protection around the world would boost the average income of every household in Britain by nearly £500 a year.

"It is not just the United Kingdom which benefits. The package we have just agreed represents a major step forward for world trade that will bring great gains for people all over the world. It also represents a major step forward in building the global architecture we need for a secure, prosperous world. What was most striking about discussions in Doha was the growing confidence of developing countries, with African, Latin American and the poorest countries increasingly working together effectively and a growing trust between developing and developed countries.

"The Doha Development Agenda has involved great willingness from all countries to work together flexibly and constructively to overcome considerable differences in certain key areas. The result is a tribute to all those involved. All of us in Europe owe a particular debt of gratitude to the skill of the EU's chief negotiator, Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy.

"I want to pay tribute in particular to the state of Qatar for hosting the conference and for its excellent organisation and chairmanship. Conference Chairman Kamal and the seven facilitators worked tirelessly and effectively to ensure that all member countries, whether large or small, developed or developing, had the opportunity to be fully involved and that proceedings were as transparent as possible. I also want to pay tribute to the World Trade Organisation's director general, Mike Moore, and to the WTO's General Council chairman, Stuart Harbinson. Their skill and diplomacy have helped us to get this round on the road.

"I want to thank the tremendous team of civil servants from six government departments who worked tirelessly to help secure our objectives. I should also like to highlight the role of three delegation members, Digby Jones of the CBI, Ed Sweeney of the TUC and Penny Fowler of the UK NGO trade network. Their contribution has been invaluable.

"The United Kingdom and the European Union have long sought the launch of a new trade round. We went to Doha seeking a round which would open up free, fair and sustainable trade. I am delighted today to present exactly that result to the House. But this is just the beginning of the process. Now we have to translate the agenda we have agreed into real results. Together with over 140 WTO members, we have taken the first vital steps. We shall work now to complete the journey".

My Lords, that completes the Statement.

3.44 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other place earlier today by her right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I also thank her for arranging for a copy of the Statement to be given to me much earlier than is usual in these circumstances.

We on this side of the House certainly welcome the Statement; it would be churlish of me to say anything other than that. However, I am sure the Minister agrees that after the failure at Seattle it would have been an absolute disaster for every country in the WTO if the partcipants had not reached agreement in Doha. However, does the Minister accept that there is often a great difference between verbal and written agreements and their implementation and that in the end it will be on the implementation that Doha will be judged?

Does the Minister agree that probably the main difficulty will be in the area of agriculture and the common agricultural policy? Despite the words in the agreement, are not earlier statements of EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy defending farm subsidies, and, indeed, the French delegation's resistance to phasing them out, a worrying indication that it may not all be plain sailing and, indeed, there may be many of the old battles still to come? Can the Minister therefore restate the Government's absolute commitment to the aim stated in the declaration which is, first, to reduce and then to phase out all forms of export subsidies? Can the Minister say whether there is any evidence to support reports that the French signed the declaration only after receiving an assurance that it did not prejudge the outcome of the farm trade talks? Does the Minister agree that the rumour of protectionism already raising its ugly head is deeply worrying and that much work in this area is needed to ensure the implementation that we all want?

We welcome the agreement on TRIPS but accept that there will have to be measures to reassure the pharmaceutical industry that production under licence in developing countries will not lead to back-door imports. The Minister may be able to enlighten us on what steps will be taken to prevent that.

Many noble Lords on this side of the House, and probably on others too, will welcome the news that the preferential treatment of imports from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries is to continue. I said at the beginning of my remarks that we on this side of the House welcome the Statement and, therefore, I have restricted my comments and questions to just those few matters that might give us cause for concern.

3.47 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, we warmly welcome this extremely important Statement and the beginning of a new trade round. Most of all we welcome the fact that at last we are tipping the balance in trade negotiations from an EU/US orientation to being much more concerned about how open trade benefits the developing world.

We also strongly support and welcome the emphasis on environmental sustainability. That is an extremely important initiative. The test, of course, will be successful completion of the negotiations, not just successful launching. Some of us remember how much longer it took to complete the Uruguay Round than was originally intended. How long do the Government expect the current round to take and is there any agreement so far on when it is intended that it will be completed? The Statement contains a number of commitments on measures to be implemented soon. When will the significant concessions made with regard to the intellectual property of affordable medicines be introduced? Will they be introduced immediately, in two or three years' time, or is a longer time-scale anticipated?

Will the European Union be able to decide on its negotiating position by qualified majority voting in a number of key areas? That is good evidence of the advantages to Britain of membership of the European Union and the extent to which Pascal Lamy has negotiated in British interests as well as in common European interests. It clearly shows that the use of qualified majority voting for negotiating issues such as freeing trade and agriculture—which one member state may wish to block—has clear advantages for Britain.

We also welcome the evidence of renewed American commitment to multilateral negotiation and agreement. In passing, I wonder whether we have any evidence yet that the American acceptance of the importance of environmental sustainability in the context of Doha may extend to a reconsideration of their position on the global warming negotiations.

3.50 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their warm welcome of the Statement on a set of negotiations that it is genuinely important to have launched. I have no hesitation in agreeing entirely with the comments of the noble Baroness about the potential for disaster if that had not happened, particularly after Seattle. The United Kingdom delegation put forcefully to our colleagues the importance of launching this trade round.

Reflecting the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, we have set an agenda rather than negotiated an agreement. It was very important to settle that agenda and to distinguish the areas for negotiation over what I think will be a two or three-year period. That also answers the noble Lord's question about the time-scale. However, one should not underestimate the difficulties of agenda-setting among what were 142 countries, now happily expanded to 144.

The noble Baroness suggested that the most difficult part of the agenda would relate to agriculture and the common agricultural policy. I have no hesitation in saying that that will be enormously difficult. We were pleased to secure the wording on the phasing out of subsidies. We have argued for a long time on that issue, as did the Conservatives when they were in government. There is no difference between any of the parties in the House on that important point. The text that has emerged on agriculture will provide a sound basis for the substantial negotiations on further liberalisation that we want. The time frame for that meshes in very well with the Agenda 2000 mid-term review for reforming the common agricultural policy. We believe that Doha marks an important step forward on those revisions and for the United Kingdom's point of view.

However, that will not necessarily be the most difficult point of negotiation. We will face hugely difficult negotiations on other issues mentioned in the Statement including the important points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on the environment. No one should be in any doubt about the enormous trouble that we had in getting the environmental issues on the agenda. The European Union had to persuade fellow members throughout the WTO—not just the United States or the Cairns Group, but also our colleagues in developing countries—who are immensely suspicious of the issue as a different form of protectionism. We must bear those concerns in mind and be sensitive to them.

The TRIPS agreement on intellectual property rights was an enormously problematic issue. Essentially, it relates to access for very poor countries to life-saving medicines for such scourges as HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB and a host of other very difficult illnesses that arise in such countries and to the importance of ensuring that there will be research and development for new life-saving drugs into the future. We have struck a balance on that, particularly with the wording of paragraph 4 on the declaration on the TRIPS agreement and the relationship of access to medicines and questions of public health. That was a very difficult point of negotiation that I was glad we were able to achieve.

The noble Baroness is right about the ACP. Your Lordships have discussed the issue often in the past, particularly our major concerns for our colleagues in the Caribbean. We have long given preferential treatment in the EU to imports from the ACP countries. That strongly reflects our historic ties and those of other EU countries. The decision in Doha gives WTO approval for those preferences, including zero tariffs for most industrial goods. Without that waiver, we would be in breach of the most basic WTO principle on non-discrimination between WTO members. That has been an enormously important point for us to secure.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked a further question about the TRIPS agreement. The council is tasked with clarifying by the end of 2002 how developing countries with little or no manufacturing capacity can make use of the compulsory licensing procedures under the agreement. The least developed countries have been given an extra 10 years—until 2016—before they must introduce patenting on pharmaceutical products. Again, I believe that those were very important points to have agreed.

The noble Lord also asked about the possibility of the United States Government reconsidering their position on the Kyoto agreement. As the Americans might say in negotiating terms, that is pushing the envelope a little too far on this occasion, but it is good that they have been willing to have such environmental protection issues tabled for further discussion. We are pleased to have made that small, but not insignificant, step in the right direction.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Biffen

My Lords, I appreciate that the meeting was an agenda-setting occasion, but can the Minister say whether any consideration was given to the desirability or otherwise of open trade in genetically modified agricultural products—or is that something to be left for the future?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, under the environmental issues we discussed what is termed the precautionary principle and also labelling. The labelling issues were a matter of particular concern to the European Union countries. There was also consideration of where the multilateral environmental agreements come up against the WTO. Any of those three important areas might comprehend the issues relating to GMO food. They are covered, but they will be a matter for discussions. I would not want the noble Lord to go away with the view that these will be easy matters. We know that they will be extremely difficult to negotiate. The European Union is very pleased at least to have secured their appearance on the agenda for further discussion.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned reforming the CAP on a number of occasions. I declare an interest. How does she reconcile the billions of dollars of increased farming subsidies in the United States this autumn with the Government's obvious intention to reduce subsidies in this country, to the damage of the rural economy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, that is the great strength of the WTO. We have not just agreed to a reduction in the subsidies within the European Union. This is a matter for all WTO countries, including the United States of America. This comes back to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. The importance of this trade round cannot be overestimated. We have all signed up to it, including the United States. The Americans will similarly be obliged to negotiate on these matters.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that concern has been expressed at the Inter-Parliamentary Union that trade negotiations on the whole take place outside the scope of parliaments? Will the Government co-operate with a system of greater scrutiny within Parliament of what is happening in the WTO and multilateral negotiations?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, if I may say so gently to the noble Earl, your Lordships' House, through the usual channels, was offered a pre-Doha Statement by the Government. That Statement was accepted in another place and was a matter of parliamentary discussion. It was not accepted in your Lordships' House.

I am very pleased that today we have had an opportunity to discuss these matters. However, I am afraid that, as is normal, it is for the usual channels to discuss what opportunities are provided for noble Lords to make their views known before the negotiations take place. But I am hound to say that I believe that your Lordships have been able to discuss a number of issues of great concern. Your Lordships frequently discuss, and rightly so, the issues of developing countries. This House frequently debates issues concerning agriculture and, in particular. the common agricultural policy. Therefore, although we may not have discussed this matter in a comprehensive form, bringing all the strands together, none the less I believe that your Lordships have some very wide opportunities to deal with the matters discussed at Doha.

Lord Rea

My Lords, my question does not arise from a globophobic position. In fact, if the agenda which is outlined could be enacted, I should become a strong globophile. I want to ask my noble friend about the facilities which are available to the poorer of the 144 members of the World Trade Organisation. At the ongoing discussions which continue all year round in Geneva, the better-off countries have a strong secretariat to provide backing and perhaps a team of people to present their case. However, many poorer countries often cannot afford even to send a representative, let alone to have the back-up that the better-off countries have. Therefore, the playing field is totally against those who are trying to obtain a good bargain for the developing world. Can my noble friend say whether assistance can be given by the richer nations to enable the poorer nations to present their case fairly?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I have enormous sympathy for what my noble friend Lord Rea says. He is quite right. Many small countries which are members of the WTO do not have permanent representation in Geneva. They arrive at WTO negotiations and marvel at the number of people in the delegations of other countries, including experts—economists, lawyers, and so on.

That is why the United Kingdom has placed so much emphasis on the importance of capacity building for the poorer countries. I have raised the subject on a number of occasions with my European colleagues during the course of European Union discussions. I am very pleased to say that, before we went to Doha, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development was able to announce a package of measures being taken in relation to capacity building. I believe that I am right in saying that in the past couple of years or so my right honourable friend has pledged more than £35 million in relation to capacity building for poorer countries.

However, we are not stopping there. I hope that my noble friend noted the part of the Statement which referred to this matter and also the fact that other developed countries must now play a more active part in following the United Kingdom's lead on this important issue. We should actively encourage them so to do.

Lord Blackwell

My Lords, can the Minister give more detail about the procedures and timescales that might be involved in the reform of the agricultural trading subsidies that she mentioned and in the consequent reforms of the CAP? How might those timescales fit against the proposed timescale for the enlargement of the European Union and the necessary reforms of the CAP that would be involved?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I understand the fact that your Lordships concentrate on this matter in relation to the CAP. However, I must suggest that what we have agreed in relation to agriculture is a matter of concern across all WTO members. In that respect, resumed negotiations will begin as soon as possible with our colleagues from all the countries concerned—that is, all 142 countries. The accession process for the last two countries has still to be completed, although it has been agreed in principle. Therefore, it is important to separate the two issues. There is a WTO process and, as the noble Lord's noble friend pointed out earlier—somewhat tangentially but, none the less, it is the case—it is important that we move in concert with other developed countries which also have issues concerning subsidies.

I turn to the timescale for CAP reform. As the noble Lord may know, the chapters on agriculture with the accession countries will be opened at the beginning of next year—that is, 2002. We hope that discussions will be completed during the course of next year. That timetable is perhaps extremely ambitious. However, I believe that it is important that we in the European Union, having now secured this not insignificant step through the auspices of the WTO, take the timetable forward during the course of the next year.