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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall spend a few moments explaining why these agreements are important. The agreements are designed to extend economic and political co-operation between the European Union and partner countries in Latin America and the Mediterranean region. The European Union signed a Framework Co-operation Agreement with the Southern Cone Common MarketMercosuron 15th December 1995 and with Chile on 21st June 1996. The association agreement with Morocco was signed on 26th February 1996. It forms part of the EU's objective of creating a free trade area with the Mediterranean region by the year 2010. All three agreements aim to strengthen relations through increased commercial and economic co-operation. They include steps to liberalise trade and harmonise the partners' economic structures with the EU. That process should create new opportunities for trade and investment, bringing benefits to businesses and consumers in the European Union. They will also help to create the right climate for stable economic and social development in Latin American and Morocco.
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The EU Mercosur Framework Agreement establishes a framework to strengthen links between the EU and the countries of Mercosurthat is, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. The main elements are trade and economic co-operation. The agreement is a recognition of the growing potential of the region. Mercosur is the most dynamic of the regional groups in Latin America. It is already an important trade partner for the EU and, with a combined population of 200 million and a total GDP of almost 850 billion US dollars, the opportunities it offers are immense.
The agreement provides a framework for discussing ways in which trade can be liberalised in the future. It is a two-stage relationship. The first stage will lead to a second agreement involving progressing liberalisation of trade in accordance with WTO rules. The second stage could have a significant impact on EU/Mercosur commercial relationship and on the operation of the multilateral trading system as a whole. The UK therefore supports the thorough and detailed approach established under the agreement.
There is also provision for Foreign Ministers to meet regularly for political dialogue. That takes place twice a year in the margins of other scheduled meetings and provides an opportunity to discuss a whole range of issues of importance to both regions such as regional development, sustainable development, the environment, drugs and human rights.
The EU/Chile Framework Co-operation Agreement provides us with an additional means to deepen links with the EU and Chile. It provides for enhanced political consultation and economic partnership and foresees progressive and reciprocal liberalisation of trade in line with WTO rules. A joint declaration on political dialogue annexed to the agreement allows for the regular meetings of Heads of State and Foreign Ministers in the margins of other meetings on a range of issues of mutual interest relevant to the international agenda such as human rights, the environment and drugs. The agreement also envisages in the medium term a further round of negotiations on an association agreement with the EU.
The EU/Morocco Association Agreement is the third in the series of new Euro-Mediterranean agreements now being negotiated. So far, association agreements have been signed with Israel and Tunisia; and an interim agreement has been signed with the PLO. Other agreements are planned with Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Algeria and Syria. Europe has strong geographical and social ties with the Mediterranean. The new agreements aim to foster a new relationship with the region based on trade and mutual co-operation.
The long-term goal agreed at the Barcelona Conference in November 1995 is the creation of a Euro-Med free trade area by the year 2010. That will encourage economic transition and help to create lasting stability in the region. EU business will also benefit from the agreement. This can only improve under the new agreement which allows for progressive dismantling of Customs tariffs, further boosting trade between both sides. The Morocco agreement also
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establishes enhanced political dialogue with Morocco in the form of an EU/Morocco association council which will provide a new forum for the EU to raise issues of importance with Morocco.
The agreements represent an important development in the EU's relations with Latin America and with the Mediterranean. Once implemented, they will provide the basis for a new level of communication and co-operation at all levels. I ask the House to support these important objectives by giving its approval to the principles behind the three agreements. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft orders laid before the House on 23rd June [5th Report from the Joint Committee] be approved.(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I very much regret having to enter a note of scepticism into the purpose of these various agreements. Over many years in the past we have witnessed what I believe to be a surfeit of newly-formed institutions and organisations, all of which appear to have a very advantageous purpose when studied at first sight. However, when it comes down to it, what do they all really mean? So far as concerns the European Community, it is composed of nations and the nations themselves have trading relationships with their counterparts in other parts of the world.
The activities of the UK commercially and manufacturing-wise, or, indeed, in the provision of services, are not carried out by governments; they are carried out by individual firms and individuals. Those relationships continue despite whatever grandiose exchange of views there may be between the various organisations that purport to represent groups of state. I certainly would not wish to enter into prolonged argument about the pros and the cons, the advantages and disadvantages, of being a member of one of these important associations. Indeed, that is not my purpose.
I have had the benefit of studying this entire matter as regards the UK for the past 34 years. Therefore, I am no novice in the field. United Kingdom firms, whether or not they are providers of services or manufacturersor, indeed, a whole series of other tradable activitiesact as firms as such. Their relations continue day after day, buying and selling, manufacturing, importing, and so on, irrespective of what their governments do.
We have before us three orders. In each one the European Community and its member states are made party to a collective agreement apparently, but put in order so far as concerns the UK by the European Communities Act 1972. The agreements are made on behalf of the Community and on behalf of its member states with other individual statesas, for example, with Chile. In the case of Morocco it is an association agreement and in the case of the Southern Common Market it is centered mainly around Argentina and South America. They are all made in accordance with a framework agreement.
If one reads the framework agreements one wonders what they amount to in commercial terms. How do they affect the day-to-day commerce which takes place by telephone, fax and possibly now the Internet, despite the
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flood of words incorporated in proposals, draft treaties or Orders in Council, all of which make much work for everyone? Indeed, I can assure your Lordships that it takes a very prodigious amount of time in order to study and check them. But what is the ultimate effect of them? How do they do any good? What does it matter to the average British trader, manufacturer or provider of services whether these measures are concluded or not? Of one thing we can be quite sureI can tell your Lordships this from personal experiencethey will most certainly result in a flood of proposals, recommendations, reports, the formation of committees travelling to and fro, questions being asked in the European Parliament and the production of vast tonnes of paper in order to explain them to everyone. But what will be the ultimate effect on the ordinary activities of individual people, their companies and even their governments? The answer, I venture to suggest, is very little.
However, I am well used to the activities of the Commission. I have been associated with it closely for four years and from afar for much longer. I can tell your Lordships that once it gets its foot in the door you can bet your life the whole body corporate will follow sooner or later with some regrets that the door was opened, even ajar, in the first instance. Your Lordships may say that coming from me this means little. I most certainly sympathise with anyone who at this stage may hold the view that my views are old hat and therefore not worth troubling much about. I accept that immediately and without any kind of rancour; in many ways I welcome it.
However, I should like an assurance from Her Majesty's Government on one point only. Can Her Majesty's Government tell me and tell the House that nothing in these agreements affects the existing activities of existing companies, individuals, partnerships or firms carrying out their lawful trade in various countries of the world, and that nothing in them would permit the Commission at any stage, directly or indirectly, to effect anything which is inimical to British interests? If they can give me that assurance, I shall at least be happy with these measures because as far as I am concerned, on the face of it, they are much ado about nothing.
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