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Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): I thank the Secretary of State for her courtesy in letting me have an advance copy of her statement. I also welcome the fact that she is making a statement at all. It is unusual to do so in advance of a meeting, but it is also helpful in that it provides us with a yardstick by which to measure the Government's success in achieving their objectives. I would also be grateful if she confirmed that it is her intention to make a further statement to the House once the conference is over.
I wish to join the Secretary of State in emphasising the importance of achieving a new world trade round. The expansion of global free trade will bring huge benefits, not only to us in this country but to the developing world, as she rightly said. There were some who suggested that the meeting in Doha might have to be postponed as a result of the terrorist attacks in America and the action that has followed them. I unreservedly welcome the decision not to postpone. The choice of the World Trade Centre as one of the targets for attack was deliberate and one of the ways in which we can best demonstrate our resolve is by going ahead with the conference.
The Secretary of State is right to say that the success of the trade round will be measured by the extent to which barriers to trade are reduced. But does she accept that to do so will involve some pain and sacrifice on the part of all concerned? Does she recognise that the last set of talks in Seattle was a disappointment, and that by insisting on a broad agenda little of substance was achieved at all?
Does the Secretary of State recognise that while the European Union has achieved much in terms of reducing barriers to trade between member states, the EU still maintains some 15,000 tariffs against countries outside the European club? Does she accept that the EU common tariff wall not only costs European consumers a huge amount but is depriving developing countries of vital opportunities to export to our markets? At the same time, will she accept that if we are to open up our markets to more competition, it is equally important that the Government act to improve the competitiveness of British industry, rather than reducing it by imposing ever more tax and regulation?
The Secretary of State rightly identified the need for liberalisation in agriculture as a key priority. But will she accept that despite the commitments made at successive European summits, very little has been achieved? Can she say what progress has been made in persuading some of the more recalcitrant EU member states to make the reforms that are necessary?
On services, does the Secretary of State recognise that a balance needs to be struck between trade liberalisation and proper consumer protection? Does she also accept that an equal balance is necessary with the concerns of environmental protection, but that it is vital that neither issue should become an excuse to prevent agreement?
On intellectual property, will the Secretary of State recognise that intellectual property rights are not a form of protectionism but necessary to encourage and reward research and development? Does she acknowledge that weakening those rights risks reducing pharmaceutical research and development and slowing medical innovation? Can she say what discussions she has had with our European partners on that matter; and can she confirm that it is the Government's view that the main responsibility for making cheaper medicine available to the third world should rest with Governments, not the pharmaceutical industry?
Finally, can the Secretary of State say what will be the effect of China's joining the WTO? Does she agree that the opening up of China's markets represents a tremendous opportunity, but at the same time is bound to have tremendous implications for enterprises in that country?
Doha represents an immense opportunity to boost economic prosperity throughout the world. I therefore end by wishing the Secretary of State and her colleagues every success. We look forward to her report back to the House.
Ms Hewitt: I thank the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) for the courteous welcome that he has given my statement. I thank him too for the good wishes that he has expressed, to me and to the delegation. I considered that it would helpful to inform the House of the Government's negotiating position at
The hon. Gentleman raised an important point about decision making in the World Trade Organisation. There is no doubt that one of the hard lessons learned at Seattle was that all WTO membersand the organisation is very largemust be able to participate fully in the decision-making process. We think that that can best be achieved by building consensus and by improving communication, both inside the organisation itself and with external bodies.
The work undertaken in the WTO general council in Geneva has already gone a long way to achieving that greater openness. All WTO members are conscious that the negotiating process at Doha needs to be more transparent and inclusive for all member Governments than was the case at Seattle. However, we shall continue to seek ways to formalise those improvements in the WTO's ways of working, in parallel with establishing a new trade round.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of tariffs in the European Union, which are immensely damaging to developing countries seeking to export their way out of poverty. As I made clear in my statementand as Commissioner Lamy has made clear on behalf of the EUwe are and must be prepared to negotiate reductions in many of those tariffs, or their elimination, as part of a new round. Through unilateral action, we have already done the same in relation to the everything but arms initiative, to which I referred earlier.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned those businesses in Britain and elsewhere in the EU that fear competition from lower-wage countries in the developing world. It is essential that we support those companies, and above all their workers. By helping them to move to higher value-added production, we can remain competitive with the rest of the world.
In the textile sector, for instance, the work force and some businesses are especially concerned about the impact of the phasing out of the multi-fibre agreement. We are already working with business and the trade unions to improve the productivity and competitiveness of the sector, in particular by helping businesses move into the field of technical textiles.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned, as I did, agricultural subsidies in the EU. I can confirm that we have been pressing our European colleagues on that matter for some years. Reform of the common agricultural policy is absolutely essential, not only because there is a need to agree a new world trade round, but also because we must move forward to enlargement of the EU. I agree with him about the need to strike a proper balance with regard to services and the environment.
In addition, I wish to underline what I said about the need to ensure that there is intellectual property protection for companies, given that pharmaceutical companies invest millions in the development of each new drug that they bring to market. There is no serious proposal on the table that the TRIPStrade-related aspects of intellectual property rightsagreement should be renegotiated within the WTO.
Finally, I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the enormous importance of China's accession to the World Trade Organisation, which we have warmly welcomed. That has enormous implications for world trade, as that country has the second largest economy in the world. We shall continue to work closely with the Government in China to ensure that the potential of its accession is fully recognised.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): I thank the Secretary of State for her seriousness of purpose, and also express my appreciation of the good senseand, if I may say so, good parliamentary mannersof her coming to the House pre-conference rather than post-conference. Is she aware that both today and tomorrow a heavyweight delegation from the Philippines are guests of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and that during discussions this morning its members stressed the problems of central Mindanao, where there is a serious dissident terrorist problem for both the Muslim and the indigenous community? They argued that if there could be trade in the tropical fruits of that area, and entry into the European market for that trade, many of the terrorist problems would probably be overcome.
We are the biggest investors in the Philippines, so at Doha, will my right hon. Friend make a point of asking her officials to contact the Filipinos? I know that the Deputy Chief Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), has close connections with the railways, so he will be glad to hear that it was the British, from Plymouth and Scotland, who built the railways in the Philippines. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not be astonished to hear that, when she comes back, there will be a question on the Order Paper asking what she has done by way of contacting the Filipinos about trade in fruits and related matters.