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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Radice, that I was unable to be here from the very beginning of his speech. I am not as nimble on my feet as I was when I was the Liberal president of his old constituency, known as Chester Lee. I congratulate him on and thank him for his work on this report, and all other noble Lords who have worked on the committee. It is
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with a slightly heavy heart that I find it necessary to criticise it. I feared at one moment that I might be the only person to do so; however, I should have known, as a member of the inferior clergy, that the superior clergy would also join in the attack, and that there would also be a very worthwhile contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Judd, with all his experience.
I do not believe that the mouse of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester would have done very well in my parish when I was very young, when I owned in Hong Kong, somewhat against my will, a rather mad poodle. It used to escape from where it was meant to be pent up and come rushing into the church, right up the aisle, to lick my nose where I was leading prayers at the altar. Probably it would have devoured a mouse quite easily as it passed.
What really happens is that, since the established objective of free trade is to produce goods as cheaply as possible, it achieves it by a race to pay as little as possible to the workers. That is one of the primary causes of the admitted phenomenon of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer all over the world, both internationally and intranationally. Likewise, for the same reason, the race to cut costs results in a race to have the least care of the environment. It is quite clear, for instance, that the present administration in the United States knows that and does not care.
In paragraphs 7 and 8 of chapter 1, the committee takes on board some of the criticisms of free trade and attempts to rebut them. It is my belief that the committee fails in this. For instance, it says that the argument for food security, which would mean strong protection of home agricultural industries, harks back to a period of naval blockades and supply shortages, which the committee claims have disappeared. I hope that the committee is right, but I see nothing in the state of the world today that would lead me to bet on it. That is one of the factorsanother being the problem of air miles and its effect on climate changewhich leads me and my party to believe that a country should do its best to feed itself.
Another is the issue of animal welfare. Your Lordships will know that I campaign for the welfare of battery hens and ducks. I know of hardly anyone who denies that those methods of agriculture are cruel in the extreme. Yet any attempt to cure that cruelty is met with the argument that, if we are not cruel, other people will be, and will flood our country with cheaper imports. That is directly the result of free trade. Of course, I agree that we should not subsidise food exports, but I am sure that we should be free to tax cheap imports, which are almost always the fruit of cruelty and deficient environmental protection. I therefore believe that the Doha mandate is manifestly wrong in at least half of what it says.
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I do not expect this Government to take a stand against the insidious influence of received wisdom. Of course the Liberal Democrats are slaves to their past and to the need in the 19th century to win urban votes with cheap food. I would like to think, looking at the history of the Conservative Party, that they might at least stand up and be counted. I think of that wonderful passage in Disraeli's biography of Lord George Bentick when he recounts the passage of the Corn Laws and the vote of the squires behind Peel, as all the people who had served him and whom he had served trooped into the Lobby against him.
I suspect that it will be left, as usual, to the Green Party to stand up for decent values. While thanking the Committee for the work that it has done, I rather hope that the case that it has put forward will fall by the wayside.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, one of the pleasures of speaking fairly late is that I have the opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vallance of Tummel, on his maiden speech. I thought it was entirely excellent and followed very well in the tradition of Cobden, Peel and Gladstone. I agreed with every word of it.
The timing of this debate throws some light on the discussion recently held in this House on the report of the Procedure Committee. The report referred to on the Order Paper was, as the noble Lord, Lord Radice, pointed out, produced by your Lordships in June to boost the chances of a successful outcome to the rather fraught negotiations going on in Geneva following the debacle of the Cancun ministerial meeting in autumn 2003. Fortunately those negotiations were successfully concluded in August 2004, and the Doha development round is now back on the rails, albeit without this House having had its say. The report remains topical because it addresses not only the tactical situation that arose following Cancun, but also the substantive issues that will need to be resolved if the round is to be successfully concluded, as it needs to be, in the interests both of developing and developed economies and of the globalised world economy. That topicality owes more to luck than to good judgment.
One thread running through the report is the crucial role played by the European Union in multilateral trade negotiations. It is crucial because of its impact on the framework for international trade, which remains a driver of economic growth worldwide, and its impact on the prosperity of the Union's own citizens. In this field at least, Europe speaks with a single voice and punches its weight. I pay tribute, along with others, to the outgoing member of the Commission responsible for trade policy, Pascal Lamy, whose energy, skill and imagination contributed so much to the launching of the Doha round, and to its recent rescue from the doldrums. In this House and in this country we are often critical of the Commission; I hope that we can also give credit where credit is due.
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Peter Mandelson now takes over the task of bringing the Doha round to a successful conclusion. I hope that he will rise to that challenge and fix as a firm target a conclusion date not later than 2006 for achieving it. If the role of the European Union is prominent, it is no longer as predominant as it once was, when previous multilateral trade negotiations were more or less fixed up behind closed doors by the European Union, the United States, Japan and Canada. Whether their approach was ever desirable, it is no longer possible. A group of important developing country players, led by Brazil, China, India and South Africa, known as the G20 has emerged, and is playing an increasingly influential role. Behind them is another group of smaller developing countries, the G90, whose voice also must be heard. Given that this round is explicitly directed towards the developing countries, and given the poor past record of the industrialised world of implementing concessions towards developing countriestextiles and agriculture were good examples of that failurethat is how it has to be.
Therefore, I share many of the views of those who have spoken about the developing countries, and of the right reverend Prelate, but I fundamentally disagree with his prescription. I can think of no more poisoned gift that we could convey to developing countries than the protectionism that we invented.
The large developing economies represented in the G20, which are now expanding rapidly, have responsibilities as well as influence, and a contribution to make as well as benefits to gain from the further liberalisation of world trade rules. I hope that they will rise to that challenge in the rest of the round.
Agricultural trade is a key element of the round. Whenever agriculture is mentioned, the spotlight inevitably falls on the common agricultural policy. For far too long, the European Union was inclined to concede in trade negotiations on agriculture as little as it could possibly get away with. The damage done to developing countries by its trade-distorting subsidies is not in doubt, but the decisions taken in 2003 to break the link between the level of production and the level of subsidy offer an opportunity to get away from that bad pattern. The commitment given by the European Union this summer to accept the full phasing out of trade-distorting subsidies by a certain date or dates means that that opportunity must now be seized.
We must, however, avoid giving the impression that the European Union alone is responsible for all the wrongs in the agricultural sector; it is not. The United States has in recent years greatly increased its subsidies. As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, reminded us, Japan has a rice regime that is indefensible. All that needs to be on the table if there is to be an equitable sharing of the burden of change.
The full resumption of the Doha round agreed in August has come at a price. That price was the dropping from it of three of the four issues known as the Singapore issuestrade facilitation, barriers in government procurement, investment, and competition policy issues. Only trade facilitation has survived. It was
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right to make that sacrifice. The developing countries were suffering from negotiation overload and were not ready to grapple with the complexities of those issues.
We really need to avoid two traps, however. The first is to allow those issues to disappear permanently from the WTO agenda. The second is to accept that the Singapore issues would have exclusively benefited the developed countries at the expense of the developing countries. The developing countries stand to gain as much as anyone else from greater transparency, predictability and the rule of law in government procurement, investment and competition policy. In the last resort, it is their economies that suffer from the lack of those elements. The World Trade Organisation should therefore not give up on the Singapore issues, but simply take a pause. It may be necessary and desirable at some time for those who are ready to move ahead on them to do so, before it is feasible to think in terms of universal commitments.
A great deal is said and written about the supposed conflict between bilateral or regional trade agreements and multilateral ones, such as those being negotiated in the WTO. Our report does not consider that there is necessarily any conflict between those two methods of achieving freer and fairer trade. The world trading scene lives and can continue to live with both. However, it is important not to allow limited amounts of negotiating skills and political back-up to be directed away from the WTO at this crucial stage in the Doha negotiations. The case for an all-out effort to conclude the Doha round is indisputable, and it should be given overall priority until it is achieved.
I have two final points. There is much debate about the relevance and health of the transatlantic relationship. Trade policy is an area where the inevitability of friction between the two sides of the Atlantic is as clear as the necessity to work together to achieve common objectives. Bringing the Doha round to a successful conclusion is certainly in our common interest on both sides of the Atlantic. It is an integral part of any agenda designed to make the world a more prosperous and secure place. That was one of the findings of the UN Secretary-General's high-level panel on threats, challenge and change published earlier this week. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that that will be an essential and prominent part of the Government's objectives, and that they will pursue it through the G8 and EU presidencies that the UK will hold in 2005.
Secondly, we really must learn the lessons of Cancun. Huge ministerial meetings of the type that the World Trade Organisation is condemned to hold from time to timethe next will be in Hong Kong in a year's timeare unwieldy animals, prone to end in deadlock if they are not well prepared and well managed. That was what happened at Cancun and, before that, at Seattle. It must not be allowed to happen again. There should be thorough preparation, identification of the most sensitive issues and identification of the possible solutions to them. Then there needs to be a willingness to go into extra time to achieve a resultas there was not at Cancun.
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