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Lord Selsdon: My Lords, perhaps my noble and learned friend will forgive me, I have been to Cuba many times. I led three trade missions there at a time when Her Majesty's Government felt that it would be deemed inappropriate for them to be represented.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and my noble friend Lady Young on the importance of our relationship with Cuba. Perhaps I may say as carefully as I can that the UK enjoys normal trade relations with Cuba. It is our policy to support the efforts of UK firms to participate in the growing market as Cuba proceeds with reforms of its markets. As my noble friend Lady Young indicated, my ministerial colleague, the Minister for Science and Technology, has visited there twice.
We shall continue to play a full part in strengthening EU relations with the Caribbean, particularly in building the capacities of the private sector of the smaller island economies, and assisting with the diversification of their trade.
My noble friend Lady Hooper referred to EU support for industrial co-operation with Latin America. The DTI is actively promoting the opportunities under the EU programme for UK firms to become involved, for example, through the EC investment partner scheme which has a strong focus on SMEs to which my noble friend referred.
My noble friend Lord Pearson was concerned that EU support for Mercosur might be unattractive or unacceptable, certainly to him. It largely takes the form of technical assistance in areas such as administration and standards, where adopting European norms can be of direct benefit to our exporters. EU capital finance for Latin America provided by the European Investment Bank does so on competitive, commercial terms.
I agree also with my noble friend Lady Hooper that education and training should be a priority. We can play an important part. The British Council, as I am sure she knows, is very active in the region and will continue to be so. Your Lordships may be interested to know also that important education missions last year to Argentina and Brazil were led by my noble friend Lord Henley who was accompanied on one occasion by my noble friend Lady Perry.
Drugs are a real problem. We continue to urge close co-operation. We provide training and detection equipment and the Prime Minister and President Chirac in Madrid last December set up a working party to see how we might achieve yet further co-operation.
So far as concerns a conference, I am aware of the noble Viscount's proposal, and while I cannot offer him a clear decision yet, officials within the DTI and the Foreign Office are giving such a proposal serious consideration.
On the broader issue which came through on a number of occasions from my noble friend Lord Selsdon and the noble Lord, Lord Peston, yes, indeed, we understand clearly that it should not be a matter just of exports--investment has a crucial part to play. Indeed the DTI's trade promotion policy and, in particular, the link into the Latin America Campaign has the issue of investment as a feature.
The markets of the Americas are extremely important for British business. In 1994, 16 per cent. of UK visible exports went to those countries. We are already, as has been observed, major investors in the region which takes some 37 per cent. of our total foreign direct investment. Regional integration will undoubtedly create many new opportunities. Just within Mercosur, for example, integration will give rise to substantial opportunities in infrastructure, transport and energy. The value of infrastructure projects alone already at the feasibility stage, has been put at some 10 billion US dollars.
We are committed to working for open markets between the EU and the Americas. In that context, I wish to note our full support for the EU's work with the US and Canada on trans-atlantic trade regulations and the new generation of agreements between the EU and Latin America, such as that signed last year with Mercosur. I noted with gratification that that met with the approval of the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord McNally.
It is however a fact that while our investment performance in Latin America is strong, and trade and investment with North America is healthy, regrettably UK exporters have not hitherto given the attention to the Latin American markets that I believe they deserve. It is for this reason that my department launched the Link into Latin America campaign. This campaign and the continuing North America Now campaign will, I hope, help to ensure that UK business is ready for the many new economic opportunities to which the FTAA will give rise.
Wherever we look, we see evidence of the countries of Latin America joining the US and Canada on the world stage. I have already noted the valuable role played by them in the Uruguay Round. We have also seen Mexico joining the OECD, Chile joining APEC and negotiating to join NAFTA, and Argentina keen to join the OECD. There is co-operation over non-proliferation issues and participation in UN peace-keeping.
These changes bring new opportunities for Britain. We once enjoyed a predominant political and economic position in Latin America. We need to work to recover it. The British Government are actively responding to developments. In 1992 John Major made the first ever visit by a Prime Minister to Latin America. The Foreign Secretary has visited three times in the past four years. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Wright, that, as he might have expected, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his exuberant fashion very much enjoyed his visit to South America during the Christmas and New Year period. He returned, as do many of us following such visits, with a new appreciation of the genuine warmth and friendship that they would wish to extend towards us. There is a welcome regular and growing flow of Ministers from Latin America to the United Kingdom. Those of us in the DTI make regular visits to Latin America. Indeed, I hope soon to visit Venezuela, Columbia and many of the other Latin American countries within the coming year.
I conclude by thanking the noble Viscount for giving us this opportunity to debate this important issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, honestly said, far too often in matters of public debate in the United Kingdom the importance of Latin America is forgotten. So, too, are the problems and the importance of the Caribbean. I believe that this debate has usefully brought a clear focus on just those issues.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. We have had a fascinating discussion. As I anticipated at the beginning, there have been diverse contributions
It is a great temptation to comment on all the contributions that have been made but time does not allow. I wish to make only one or two comments on particular points. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wright, for his comments on the increase in the number of commercial posts in Latin America. One of the problems of the past was that there was a shortage of diplomats in that part of the world. The propensity of the Treasury to make cuts in the smallest and most efficient department in Whitehall, the Foreign Office, is wholly deplorable. That is a welcome reversal of the trend and I hope that it will continue.
I was particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, spoke of the European arrangements and initiatives in Latin America. That is important and it is a subject which Canning House embraces. It pays particular attention to European Union relations with Latin America.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, needs no education in economics but I am glad to welcome him to this new area. His point about languages was particularly important. Spanish and Portuguese are the key languages but the noble Lord may not be aware that after Mexico the United States is the most important Spanish-speaking country in the world. More people speak Spanish as the first language in the United States than in Spain. That is a remarkable state of affairs and shows how the language is spreading. It is a welcome extension and--dare I say it?--another issue embraced by Canning House.
It was encouraging to hear several noble Lords endorse the notion that the United States' policy towards Cuba is flawed and that we should trade more actively with that country and encourage others to do likewise. Trade missions are very welcome and perhaps I may remind my noble friend Lord Selsdon that in 1974 I accompanied Lord Walston on the first trade mission to Cuba since Castro came to power. He had been in office for 14 years and on that occasion he made his first ever visit to the British Embassy. I gather that since then he has visited the embassy on many occasions but it was a welcome initiative. Our relations with Cuba are excellent.
One of the factors that has emerged from the debate is that there are a number of sub-regional trading arrangements already in existence. They were mentioned by a number of noble Lords. It is perhaps through the convergence of those sub-regional arrangements that the whole of that vast area will develop. However it develops and however long it takes, it is a vital initiative and it is extremely important that