Yesterday, Lord Harrison led a debate in the House of Lords on the role of international trade in increasing employment and economic growth. He started using a quotation from the former Trade Minister, Lord Green, when addressing a previous TOP meeting: “all the evidence is that when you open up markets people flourish, businesses grow and you create jobs.” International trade is central to all our lives, bringing jobs, growth and prosperity to the developed and developing world alike.
Lord Harrison asked the Minister for an update on the ongoing EU-US negotiations and to give an assurance that any potentially adverse effects on developing countries will be mitigated. He asked for similar confirmation regarding the EPAs that are being discussed between the EU and African states as their 1st October 2014 deadline comes into sight. On Bali implementation, the Minister was asked to report on what discussions government departments have had and what budget provisions are being made to support the global trade facilitation deal.
Lord Giddens, in his comments on the EU-US deal, spoke of the opportunities that such a trading relationship might have for developing economies – the current estimates predict that 100bn euros of extra GDP will be generated for the developing world as a result of this process. While Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean called for a more joined-up government approach to trade policy.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer made a speech on the lack of effort being made to reconcile food production with global trade in agricultural products – a vacuum that is failing to ensure that the people of the world are properly nourished. Although there are enough calories produced through the world to meet the population’s needs, they are incredibly unevenly distributed – roughly 1 billion people in the world are malnourished, while 1 billion are obese. She emphasised the problems caused by transnational corporations, the biggest 4 of whom control around 90% of the global grain trade.
The subject of the EU’s bilateral trade agreements was also raised by Baroness Miller, who questioned the lack of poverty reducing measures that they contain. She asked that this be addressed to ensure that the poorest people in those countries are protected.
Lord Sharkey highlighted the vital role of trade to development using the compelling argument that the world uses sanctions as an instrument of persuasion precisely because of the damage caused by constraint in external trade. Northern Cyprus has effectively been cut off from international trade for 40 years, and the consequences have been poverty, unemployment, and low growth and investment. He also raised the question of whether international trade agreements should now concentrate on supply chains rather than tariff reductions.
In his response, the new Minister of State for Trade, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, said: “International trade is not just something for rich countries or big business. Trade is the greatest single tool to bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and set countries on the path of development.” He highlighted the importance of implementing the trade facilitation signed at the WTO Ministerial in Bali, which has the potential to boost developing economies by $100billion. He also said that the UK wants to use trade policies to support development through the ongoing EPA negotiations.
In specific response to Lady Miller’s speech, he said: “one of the most basic human rights is the right to eat. Trade and economic development are the most effective way of raising people out of starvation and poverty. The World Bank estimates that developing countries that have opened up their economies to trade grow three times faster than those which have not.”
He gave his assurance that the opening-up of trade, particularly in agricultural products will be an important next stage in the EU’s ongoing trade negotiations, especially with African countries.