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3 April 2004

Trade Justice

There is clearly consensus on both sides of the House about the vast majority of issues that have been discussed this afternoon. The Government have made much progress, but while the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) made the most eloquent speech, the Secretary of State was right to raise the Conservatives' track record. The best indication of future performance is past performance-that cannot be airbrushed out of history.

There is consensus in this place, but the public are mystified, because all that they ask is that we politicians give the poorest, the hungriest and the starving a decent trading system, so that they have a level playing field and can get a leg up and participate in trade. Trade with developing countries is occurring, and not just in agricultural products, although they are clearly the No. 1 issue. There is trade in mining, a growing trade in tourism, trade in arms, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) mentioned, and trade in technology. One thing that has affected my constituency is the trade in financial services jobs, which are going to the developing world.

Unfair barriers must be tackled. Non-tariff barriers make it difficult for products from the developing world to enter our market. It is right that we have high standards, and that we demand that the food that ends up on the supermarket shelf is of the highest standard. The knock-on effect of that, however, is that people who want to enter the food market must comply with the same standards. If we are to help the developing world, we must therefore assist those developing countries in a number of ways to enter our markets.

The effect of trade on the environment has not been mentioned. If we trade with the developing world in timber, for instance, we must consider the effect that that has on the environment and on greenhouse gases. Clearly, there is not enough time to discuss many aspects of trade, although they have been discussed in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall a few times recently. I appreciate that the Secretary of State has always shown a great interest and has turned up for those debates.

I have mentioned the national issues, but it is also worth mentioning and recognising local initiatives that are helping. When the Minister replies, he may mention the fair trade policy of Edinburgh university in his constituency. Our city of Edinburgh has adopted fair trade city status. Fair trade bananas are now on display in my local Tesco, and at a village in my constituency, South Queensferry, people are signing up to participate in fair trade.

The issue is trade justice, and a number of Members have already mentioned the injustice of EU farm subsidies and the United States Farm Bill. Europe and the United States are part of the problem, not part of the solution. I would like to see some movement on that, and given the special relationship that exists, or is supposed to exist, between the Prime Minister and the US President, it could be emphasised how important it is that they roll back some of the subsidies that they are giving their domestic producers and their exporters, which are effectively destroying markets.

Aid and trade are also linked. As the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), has pointed out in the past, we must accept that in good years, when developing countries are producing a great deal of whatever agricultural product they produce, the price falls, whereas in bad years of agricultural production, we send out more aid and, once again, there is a danger that local market prices can be undermined. We must make sure that we integrate our aid and develop trade at the same time.

A classic example of things having gone completely pear-shaped is the world coffee market. The Secretary of State and others mentioned the problems of Ethiopia. If Ethiopia is to move forward, with its growing population and huge AIDS crisis, it must develop irrigation, agricultural production, its road system and its education and health systems, all of which will work together in letting it develop as a nation and develop its trade. Coffee production is at the heart of Ethiopia's future potential. While there are new players in the market, such as Vietnam, which was mentioned earlier, one of the problems is that we are paying increased prices for coffee on our supermarket shelves, yet the world coffee price to the local farmer is dropping. On a rough calculation, a coffee farmer must produce enough coffee for 1,000 cups of coffee to be paid as much as we in the UK pay for one cup of coffee.

As time is moving on, I want to end with what I said when we last discussed this subject:

"Trade agreements should be developed to help the poor, to protect the environment and to be a force for positive change. If that development does not take place, we shall all suffer as we help to develop a world where the obese watch the poor starve to death on television. All that is being asked for is what is fair. We should settle for nothing else." -[Official Report, 19 June 2002; Vol. 387, c. 315.]

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European Union
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This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.