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Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, since there has been no sign of any change of heart on the part of the Burmese regime, and since the people of that country continue to suffer under repression, might it not just be possible that a change of policy would yield better results and that some form of dialogue and international contact with the regime would lead to a more favourable solution, rather than a continuing policy of sanction and ostracism?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we must bear in mind what the elected leader of Burma, Aung San Siu Kyi, urges upon other countries which favour democracy. The course of action suggested by the noble Lord to your Lordships is not the course of action chosen by the elected leader of that country.

With our partners we are working hard on a draft resolution on Burma for adoption at the session of the UN Convention on Human Rights. We are taking a number of different actions, such as supporting, as I have indicated, the EU Common Position and looking

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at ways of tackling the issue through the ILO. However, it behoves us to listen to what is said to us about the position in Burma by its elected leader.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that countries in the region that hold no brief for the military rulers in Burma, are extremely sensitive about interventions by former colonial powers, and that ASEAN has a much greater opportunity of producing some sort of bridge? Does she also agree that while no one argues against the bravery of Aung San Siu Kyi, many of her former supporters believe that she is a stumbling block to any sort of dialogue?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, while I am sure that we all wish to see eventually the same outcome on the ground in Burma, we hold rather different views on how that will best be achieved. We firmly believe that any Burmese representation to international bodies--the noble Lord mentioned ASEAN--should not breach the spirit of the EU Common Position. We believe that the Burmese Foreign Minister should not be granted a visa to attend the ASEAN meeting. We take a very different view from the one articulated by the noble Lord.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister realise that many of us do not accept the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, and believe that the democratic forces in Burma, which have reasserted themselves over many years and won a clear election victory, should be supported? In the light of her last reply, will the Minister consider working closely with the new committee for the representation of the people's parliament which has the support of a clear majority of the elected members, including many who are now in detention, and encourage, for example, the International Parliamentary Association and others to work with that committee to represent our support for democracy and the democratic forces in Burma?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her support of the Government's position on this. Earlier I mentioned the work we are undertaking with our partners on a UN Commission on Human Rights draft resolution. We hope to ensure that such a draft resolution includes a reference to the committee representing the people's parliament. We hope that will be a positive step which will give proper encouragement to those who support democracy within Burma.

To the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, I would say that in many ways our policy is working. We have seen, for example, our policy on trade working. During 1998 UK exports to Burma decreased by about 18 per cent. compared with 1997. The action we are taking together with our EU partners is having some effect, we believe, on the Burmese economy.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, the Minister has said that she would like the UK to strengthen the EU's Common Position on this matter. Can she say by

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what mechanism that would be achieved in the working group concerned? Would it be by some form of Euro majority, or by unanimity?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we shall be looking at all sorts of ways to try to strengthen the position, depending on the particular action that might be agreed. Sadly, as I said in my original Answer to my noble friend, at the moment there is no consensus. Were there to be a consensus, of course, the way in which it would be achieved would be a question of what the subject of that consensus was.

"Banana War": Effect on Trade

3.23 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the action of the United States regarding the "Banana war" affects adversely various industries of the United Kingdom, in particular the carton manufacturing industry; and whether they will take steps to negotiate with the Government of the United States with a view to ending the punitive action which it has taken.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): My Lords, the action of the United States Government in targeting various EU industries in the dispute over the EU's banana import regime has been having an adverse effect on all the sectors concerned, including the folded carton industry. That is why the Government and the European Commission have been working hard to get a resolution to the dispute. The publication of the World Trade Organisation panel reports on 12th April means that there is now a fresh opportunity for the EU to work with the US and the other interested parties to avoid unnecessary damage to our industries and to our trade relations generally.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that helpful Answer. While I welcome the help that the Government have already given to the cashmere exporters, mainly in Scotland, will the Government also assist those who export cartons? In my former constituency, they have been hit severely, causing unemployment on a large scale. On the question of getting the European Union to observe the World Trade Organisation arbitrators, will the Government insist that the banana quotas must be revised so that the United States will end their discriminatory tariffs?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, the scheme that the Government brought forward to guarantee the bonds requested by US Customs in respect of cashmere knitwear was developed in response to a particular feature of the cashmere industry, which is, of course, of a highly seasonal nature. Now we are working hard to see whether we can displace the remaining US retaliation by other means, possibly by an interim solution linked to a definitive new regime which is clearly and irrefutably WTO compatible. That is the

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direction of the negotiations now under way. To conclude them speedily and to obtain an EU alignment as early as possible is most important.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, without in any way prejudicing the efforts being made by the institutions of the European Union to deal with this matter, will the noble Lord agree that this country, as the sixth most powerful trading nation in the world, has its own rights, on its own account, to pursue its own interests and to supplement those made by the European Union acting as an organisation?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, it is clear by the decisions of both Houses of Parliament, which represent our democracy, that we have decided to give certain powers to the EU to negotiate on our behalf. My opinion is that that was an extremely sensible thing to do because negotiations in international trade should be made at the level at which most people are likely to see successful outcomes. In issues of that nature, Europe has continued and will continue to serve us well. That does not stop us making our views on which to build a consensus position clear to our partners, as necessary.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether or not the reports that have been issued that the European Union's policies benefit the producers of bananas rather than the Caribbean islands are true statements?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, the agreements that are in place currently are to ensure that all producers are given as fair a position as possible within a complex, multi-national negotiated scheme. In the next round of negotiations we shall try to ensure that the appropriate balance for all consumers is maintained.

Lord Monson: My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the substantial quantities of bananas exported from Guadeloupe and Martinique are not the subject of this dispute, as those two Caribbean islands are legally part of the French Republic and, therefore, the United States has no valid basis for objecting to their exports? Is it not only the English-speaking Caribbean islands which stand to suffer?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, it is true to say that there are different definitions of producer within the complexity of the agreement currently in place. In trying to resolve a complex, multi-national negotiation between two large powers--Europe and the USA--I am sure that the interests of all consumers will be taken into account.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, as the Americans were forced by the World Trade Organisation to reduce their exorbitant sanctions, will the Minister tell the House why the Secretary of State for Scotland was sent to negotiate that those releases be allocated mostly to Scotland? Given that the Government said that they would fund the deposits for

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the cashmere trade, why could not those funds be allocated to other United Kingdom industries, such as those mentioned by my noble friend, which are suffering greatly? Or is it because of the Scottish elections and there will be very few Labour votes in Huntingdon?


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