HC Deb 10 December 1981 vol 14 cc471-3W
Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the outcome of the Foreign Affairs Council on 7 and 8 December.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

My right hon. and noble Friend took the chair at a meeting of the Council held in Brussels on 7 and 8 December. I represented Her Majesty's Government and my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Trade attended.

Foreign Ministers agreed arrangements for their informal meeting called for by the European Council to consider the main unresolved issues of the 30 May mandate. It will take place in London on 14 and 15 December. Attendance will be limited to Foreign Ministers and the President of the Commission, each accompanied by two persons only.

They also agreed that the future Belgian Presidency should circulate proposals on the handling of future work on the Italian-German proposals on European union.

The Foreign Ministers of the Ten expressed their deep anxiety at the fate of Academician and Mrs. Sakharov and agreed that the Presidency should appeal to the Soviet authorities to authorise Lisa Alexeyeva to leave the Soviet Union and permit Academician Sakharov and his wife to return to a normal life.

The Council received a report from the Commission on trade and economic relations with Japan. It was agreed that the tariff measures which the Japanese Government are reported to be considering constitute a step in the right direction but would not address the central problem. Acting on a proposal from the Commission, the Council adopted a list of requests for specific action which will now be transmitted urgently to the Japanese. It was agreed that the Council would assess the Japanese response at its meeting in February.

Agreement was reached on the extension of the external aspects of the steel anti-crisis measures for 1982 including a negotiating mandate for voluntary restraint arrangements—VRAs—with major third country steel suppliers. Some progress was made on the funding of steel social measures, but one member State maintained a reserve on the proposals. Ministers discussed but reached no decision on recommendations on telecommunications and the extension of the Community coking coal decision.

The Council agreed on the details of the operation of the Community's generalised scheme of preferences for 1982. The United Kingdom made a short statement drawing attention to the further liberalisation that had been possible for industrial products despite the severe current recession and regretting the relative lack of such liberalisation for agricultural products.

Regrettably, the Council failed once more to agree on a mandate for negotiations with Cyprus for a trade regime for 1982 and 1983. Current arrangements will be extended autonomously for a further six months to allow discussion to continue.

The Council approved the report of the Community's high level group of experts on North-South matters commissioned in June. The report has widened the common ground within the Community on the main issues concerning developing countries.

There was also further discussion on the question of the minimum guaranteed price to be offered to the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of States—ACP—for their sugar.

Agreement was reached on a common position on a revised method for reviewing staff pay and on a special levy recognising current economic and social problems. Subject to further discussion with the European Parliament, it is hoped that final approval will be possible by the Finance Council on 14 December.

I took the chair at a parallel session of the Council which further covered the arrangements governing imports of textiles from low-cost sources. The Council reached decisions which will enable the Commission to continue negotiations on the renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement and to open negotiations with the Community's preferential trading partners. It was confirmed that the Community's participation in the new multi-fibre arrangement was subject to overall global ceilings on the most sensitive products and the conclusion of satisfactory bilateral agreements with the suppliers concerned. The calculation of the global ceilings will be affected by the decisions taken by the Council and revised figures will be submitted. It was agreed that the establishment of satisfactory global ceilings was a matter of prime importance.

The Council had a brief discussion about the provision of Community food supplies to Poland and approved the Commission's proposal to use the sum of 10 million ECUs agreed by the Budget Council to assist in supplying food to Poland in order to provide some 8,000 tonnes of beef as a gift.