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Lord Hylton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, has correctly identified the lack of solid property rights as a brake on Egypt's development. It may be also that the United States aid to Egypt has been less effective because it has been largely military in character. When the Minister replies on Chile I hope that she will be able to say whether she can foresee similar trade improvements being extended to Argentina? If that could be done in the fairly short or medium term it might help Argentina to recover somewhat more rapidly from its recent serious economic problems and that in turn might help Mercosur, the South American cone of economic co-operation to become more of a reality than it is at present.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, three of your Lordships have raised quite a lot of questions, which I shall do my best to answer. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is right in saying that the agreements are lengthy. Indeed, they took quite some time to negotiate. However, I am sorry to say that I was staggered to learn that the cost of a copy of the Chilean agreement to the general public is £176. I think that that is a very heavy price.
However lengthy and long these negotiations were, I do not think any of your Lordships believe that they are fundamentally contentious agreements, although the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised some particular questions about human rights. As I said in my opening remarks, the agreements on which we have to focus are principally about trade. None of us operates on trade without reference to what is happening in international relationships. In human rights terms, we expect certain standards of those with whom we conclude these kinds of agreements.
Perhaps I may say to your Lordships thatand this touches to a certain extent upon what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, saidin the EU we are now concentrating our trade negotiations through the WTO. Commissioner Lamee has said that EU resources should be put behind trying to liberalise trade internationally through the WTO and particularly in building up for the discussions we shall be having in Cancun in Mexico in September.
I have a certain sympathy with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about bilateral agreements and their importance. I think that to set bilateral agreements entirely on one side in the European Union would be a mistake. I hope that in the longer term that is not a path down which the European Union is trying to tempt us to go, although I can see the sense in concentrating our resources in the way that we are at the moment.
I turn first to Egypt. It already enjoys duty and quota-free access to the EU for its industrial products under the 1977 co-operation agreement. However, by liberalising trade in agricultural products and increasing EU/Egyptian co-operation in economic areas the agreement will promote Egyptian exports into the EU. The noble Lord raised an important question about what he perceived to be a lack of prosperity on Egypt's part. It is important to see that this is opening up those markets for Egypt in a way that we hope will consolidate its position.
Of course the agreement will cover 90 per cent of EU/Egyptian trade. The United Kingdom supported better and faster market access for EU exports. Perhaps it is disappointing that more was not achieved. I am bound to say to your Lordships that in acknowledging that, I hope that we will also acknowledge the positive side of the agreement.
I turn to the very interesting point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as to the human rights issues around the Egyptian agreement. It is important that the articles on political dialogue provide for regular exchanges on subjects of common interest, such as peace, democracy and regional development. Human rights will be a part of that dialogue, as under the association agreements with other countries in the region. The noble Lord will be familiar with those agreements.
In addition, the European Union can take what are described as "appropriate measures"including of course, as I mentioned, the suspending provisions in the agreementif it considers that Egypt is failing to meet its obligations. The noble Lord asked quite rightly: how is that done? Monitoring through the heads of mission will continue. That will trigger, if necessary, an ability to raise the matter at association council and committee. There will be a continuing dialogue after ratification.
We always have very senior ambassadorial representation in Cairo. I was there recently. We have an exceptionally good mission in terms of the numbers of British diplomats. So we are able to monitor the situation and to bring matters to the attention of our colleagues should that be necessary.
The monitoring of human rights concerns by Parliament is an important point, not just for Parliament in this country but for parliaments in other European Union countries. But of course the competence, as the noble Lord will know, rests at European Council level. The Council will consider the views of national parliaments and, quite rightly, the views of the European Parliament itself.
As I understand the situation, either party can take appropriate measures if it considers that the other side is failing to fulfil its complete obligations under the agreement, including in respect of the principles of fundamental human rights. Therefore, I believe that there are many mechanisms which can be triggered should we feel that Egypt is not living up to its obligations.
I turn to the interesting questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, as to aid. He was particularly worried about what he saw as the failings of European Union aid towards Egypt. It is a UK priority to support reforms aimed at improving the effectiveness and management of European Union aid, including the MEDA programme which provides aid to Egypt. We support the European Commission in taking forward this reform agenda and I think that we are reasonably happy with progress to date.
I understand that the United States is also looking to pursue a free trade agreement with Egypt. However, that ambition is in its early days and no negotiations have actually started. Last week President Bush also spoke of a US/Middle East free-trade area. That is still very much a German idea, but none the less it is interesting that he is thinking in that way.
I stress to noble Lords that the investment pattern between this country and Egypt is interesting. For example, the noble Lord may like to know that United Kingdom companies invest into Egypt six times
I turn to issues concerning Chile. As I said, the agreement is part of strengthening bilateral relations in Latin America following the EU-Mexico agreement concluded in 1997. Both the EU and Chile view the agreement as strengthening political links and building on co-operation and assistance projects while giving our economies a real chance to benefit from trade liberalisation. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, emphasising issues concerning Chilean wine and our whisky are most important. Those are huge products for both economies and it is good to see progress in that respect.
I turn again to the important points made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about human rights. Let us consider the question of the rule of law. The agreement reiterates our commitment to strengthening the rule of law in Chile, which is an integral part of the political and co-operation parts of the agreement. Since the earlier framework agreements concluded in 1991 and 1996, that has been our aim.
The noble Lord is concerned about the working of the military courts. We support the correct use of judicial procedures, according to the nature of the case in question. With regard to the use of military courts, we would use the agreement to influence the Government of Chile to follow what we believe to be the correct internationally recognised procedures. Of course, that means that civilians should be tried in civilian courts.
I turn to the issue of peace law 2.191. We have always been concerned that human rights abuses committed during the military dictatorship are thoroughly investigated by the Chilean authorities, and that those found responsible are brought to justice. We support the repeal of the 1978 amnesty law. I am of course aware of the abuses relating to Father Michael Woodward and William Beausire. We formally registered with the Chilean Government our continuing interest in the cases of both those individuals. As I said, we have always been concerned that human rights abuses be properly investigated and President Lagos has said that his government is committed to ensuring that the courts have the necessary independence to advance the process of human rights cases. So we have received those assurances from the Chilean President.
Article 9 of the agreement provides scope for parliamentary co-operation between the Chilean Congress and the European Parliament. However, no article covers co-operation between national parliaments. That is for the consideration of national parliaments individually, rather than as part of the agreement.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked whether the Chilean agreement was to be a precursor for one with Argentina or, indeed, Mercosur. As I said, we are not entering into heavy bilateral negotiations with other countries at present, because the Council is concentrating on Cancun and the WTO. Negotiations on association agreements with Chile and Mercosur started together in 1999, but negotiating with a regional bloc is necessarily more complex than with a single country. As I know from discussions that I have had when in Chile and elsewherecertainly in Brazilfrankly, it can be very difficult to press ahead with such negotiations. However, we hope to conclude the EU-Mercosur association agreement in line with the Rio Work Programme agreed in 2002. We hope to approach the final round of negotiations later this year.