Previous Section Index Home Page

General Affairs Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what the outcome was of the General Affairs Council held in Brussels on 26 and 27 February; if he will set out the Government's voting record at the Council; and if he will make a statement. [151993]

Mr. Vaz: The General Affairs Council (GAC) on 26-27 February adopted 29 of the 31 "A" points listed document no. 6378/01 (two items were withdrawn: nos. 23 and 28). It also noted the resolutions, decisions and opinions adopted by the European Parliament in its sessions of 11-15 December 2000 and 15-18 January 2001 in Strasbourg and 31 January-1 February 2001 in Brussels, listed in document nos. 13762/1/00, 5006/01 and 5009/01 respectively. Copies of these documents have been placed in the House Libraries.

1. Western Balkans

The Council heard a briefing from UN Secretary-General Special Representative (UNSGSR) in Kosovo, Hans Haekkerup. The Council welcomed his proposal to develop a legal framework for provisional institutions of self-government. It also expressed support for his efforts to ensure full implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1244. The Council expressed concern over the situation in south-east Serbia, condemning actions by ethnic Albanian armed groups. The Council supported initiatives by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to find a peaceful outcome and underlined the importance of an increased presence of representatives of the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM). The Council welcomed a letter from Javier Solana, the Secretary-General/High Representative. It asked him to present proposals urgently for further EU action concerning the Presevo Valley. The Council endorsed Antoin MacUnfraidh as the new EUMM Head of Mission.

2. MEPP/Aid to Palestinian Authority

Foreign Ministers discussed the MEPP and the Palestinian Authority's economic situation. The Council stressed the need for the EU to play an important role in a concerted international effort aimed at avoiding economic and institutional collapse in the Palestinian territories. To that end, the EU would urge the Palestinian Authority to draw up a revised restrictive budget; press for an international donor meeting under the auspices of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee soon; and make full use of the funds available under the existing cash facility in favour of the Palestinian Authority. The Council called on both sides to refrain from violence and return to the negotiating table and renewed its call on Israel to resume payments to the Palestinian Authority and lift closures.

3. Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The Council discussed developments in the DRC and agreed conclusions pledging the EU's support for UNCSR 1341 and for the relaunching of the Lusaka peace process.

4. South Caucasus

Following the recent ministerial Troika visit to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, the Council agreed that the EU should play a more active political role in the region. The EU will support the efforts of international

5 Mar 2001 : Column: 98W

organisations to prevent and resolve conflicts. The EU will also reinforce the bilateral and multilateral political dialogue with the countries in the region and with Russia, Turkey, Iran and the United States. The Council invited its competent bodies to make recommendations for its reinforced EU policy.

5. GSP Regulation: Everything but Arms Proposal for LDC Market Access

The GAC adopted, by qualified majority, amendments to the GSP Regulation extending duty and quota-free access to products from the 48 least developed countries (the everything but arms proposal). It welcomed this regulation as a measure not only of substantive value to least developed countries (LDCs), but as a concrete sign of political goodwill towards the LDC in the context of the next round of WTO negotiations and the 3rd UN Conference on LDCs in May.

The regulation will apply from 5 March 2001. Duty-free and quota-free access will be extended immediately to all LDC products except arms, with transitional periods for the three sensitive products of bananas, rice and sugar. For bananas, tariffs will be reduced by 20 per cent. annually, starting on 1 January 2002. Access will be completely tariff-free by 1 January 2006. For rice and sugar, tariff reductions will be phased in with a 20 per cent. cut in 2006, 50 per cent. in 2007 and 80 per cent. in 2008. In the meantime, duty-free quotas, based on previous best exports to the EU, will be opened for the marketing year 2001-02, and these will increase by 15 per cent. each year until 2009, when all tariffs and quotas will be removed.

The Commission will, in 2005, submit a report to the Council on the implementation of the regulation, and will make appropriate proposals, if necessary, for its amendment.


6. El Salvador

The Council invited member states and the Commission to closely co-ordinate their actions in the region and to pursue their assistance to El Salvador. It also emphasised the need for effective co-ordination of international assistance and commended the forthcoming meeting of the consultative group on El Salvador in Madrid on 7 March.

7. Zimbabwe

The Council discussed the worsening political and economic situation in Zimbabwe and agreed on the need for political dialogue with the Zimbabwean Government, as provided for in article 8 of the Cotonou agreement.

8. Voting Record

No formal votes were taken on the points under discussion at the GAC. The UK supported the Commission/ Presidency compromise proposal on everything but arms. This was adopted at the GAC without a formal vote. The presidency concluded after discussions that sufficient votes in favour existed for a qualified majority.

Gafur Rakhimov

Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make it his policy not to grant an application from Mr. Gafur Rakhimov, a senior official of the International Amateur Boxing Federation, for a visa to travel to Belfast. [151787]

5 Mar 2001 : Column: 99W

Mr. Vaz [holding answer 1 March 2001]: If Mr. Rakhimov applies for a visa to visit the United Kingdom, his application will be considered under the Immigration Rules and a decision will be made on the evidence available at the time. All applications are considered on the individual merits of the case.

Ministerial Visit (Egypt)

Mr. Blunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what was the (a) cost to public funds and (b) purpose of the visit of the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), to Egypt in February. [151688]

Mr. Wilson: The visit cost £8,371.49 for myself and two FCO officials and its purpose was to discuss bilateral and trade relations with Egypt. I had meetings with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.


Ms Glenda Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he is taking to implement the ILO resolution recommending that the organisation's members review the relations they may have with Burma, to ensure that Burma cannot perpetuate or extend the system of forced or compulsory labour. [152158]

Mr. Battle: We share the international abhorrence at the practice of forced labour in Burma. In 1997, the European Community suspended GSP privileges to Burma as a result of this practice. We played an active role in pressing for the ILO resolution on Burma. Since the decision, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment wrote to employers and workers groups in the UK on 18 February, asking them to draw the ILO decision to their members' attention and to consider how to give effect to the ILO resolution. We, too, are actively considering what further steps HMG could take.

Ms Glenda Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he is taking to prevent (a) UK investment in Burma and (b) UK imports from Burma when they are associated with the use of forced or compulsory labour. [152159]

Mr. Battle: We have given a cautious welcome to recent news that the regime in Burma has begun discussions with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. As a result of these talks, the regime has recently taken steps to decrease pressure on the National League for Democracy (NLD), including the release of 85 youth members. However, senior members of the NLD remain under house arrest. We have called for these restrictions to be lifted, and have made it clear that there will be no softening of our stance until we see real evidence of progress in Burma.

We do not encourage trade or investment with Burma. There is now virtually no new investment into the country. We have asked the biggest British investor in Burma, Premier Oil, to leave. We have drawn the attention of the tourism industry to the views of democratic leaders that tourism to Burma is inappropriate. We are actively considering how best to give effect to the ILO's decision last November to invoke measures against Burma over forced labour. Any action will need to be

5 Mar 2001 : Column: 100W

balanced against the delicate discussions currently taking place between the Burmese regime and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Parliamentary Questions

Ms Kingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he will reply substantively to the questions from the hon. Member for Gloucester tabled on 31 January. [152150]

Mr. Wilson: These questions were answered on 1 March 2001, Official Report, columns 735-36W.

Next Section Index Home Page