Jo Swinson leads fair trade debate calling for strong EU leadership

Jo Swinson and colleagues at the MakePovertyHistory march in Edinburgh in July

Jo Swinson has highlighted key areas where progress is needed at the upcoming World Trade talks

The Prime Minister must use the remainder of Britain’s EU Presidency to secure deals on fair trade with developing countries at next month’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks, according to Jo Swinson MP.

Leading a debate in Parliament today on trade with developing countries, the East Dunbartonshire MP called on Tony Blair to heed the words of Nelson Mandela who earlier this year urged world leaders to “recognise that the world is hungry for actions, not words.” On Monday, Mr Blair made in a speech at the lord mayor of London’s banquet, in which he called for the “principle of cooperation” to be extended to the multilateral trading system.

Commenting on the Government’s position, Jo Swinson said:

“The UK is in a strong position to influence events, both being President of the EU and having a Trade Commissioner who is not only a UK nominee to the Commission but is also very close to the Prime Minister. 2005 has represented a fantastic opportunity to make progress on poverty and trade injustice. I just hope it will not be remembered as a missed opportunity.”

The WTO talks in Hong Kong, from 13th to 18th December, will seek to resume the talks that broke down in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003. There is a lukewarm sense of anticipation ahead of the talks, with WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy having said members should “recalibrate” their expectations for success after a series of informal preliminary meetings failed to resolve outstanding differences between members.

Jo Swinson commented:

“With nearly a month before the start of the WTO summit, it has already been mooted that the talks are heading for failure. The Government must respond to this and try to bring an air of reconciliation and progress to the proceedings.”

The East Dunbartonshire MP said only real progress in Hong Kong would leave the UK Presidency’s of the EU with a successful legacy:

“The Prime Minister still has progress to make if the Presidency is not to be seen as a failed opportunity. Production support, export subsidies and import tariffs create an uneven playing field and have a devastating effect on developing countries. In the EU, the average cow receives $2.2 per day in support – more than the daily income of half the world’s population.

“Global trade has the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty, but forcing liberalisation too soon can stifle fledgling industries, such as small scale coffee production. Developing countries must be allowed the space to set their own timetable for liberalisation.

“Further, an urgent review is needed of the rules governing the intellectual property rights of anti-AIDS and other drugs. The changes required are relatively straightforward, but with only 15% of an estimated 6.5 million disease sufferers receiving treatment, the need for them is pressing.”

Jo Swinson paid tribute to the East Dunbartonshire Fairtrade movement, which seeks to make East Dunbartonshire Scotland’s first fair trade zone. In order to do this, Fairtrade products must be available in shops, cafes, Council offices, meetings and canteens, as well as being used by local workplaces and community organisations.

The Minister for International Development Gareth Thomas responded to Jo Swinson by agreeing to meet a delegation of East Dunbartonshire fair trade supporters.

Commenting on the East Dunbartonshire Fairtrade movement, Jo Swinson said:

“Grassroots action has been a consistent driver of progress towards fair trade. Consumer demand for fairly traded goods is forcing companies to change the way they do business. Fair trade is a local success story, with East Dunbartonshire well on the way to becoming Scotland’s first fair trade zone. I am delighted my constituents will have the opportunity to explain their support for fair trade to the Minister face-to-face.”

One of the criteria for establishing a Fair Trade area was met back in January 2005, when the East Dunbartonshire Fair Trade Steering Group was established. Commenting on the aims of the Fair Trade movement, Steering Group member Angela Oakley, said:

“The huge popular support for the MakePovertyHistory Campaign shows the deep interest of the UK electorate in improving the way we conduct our business with the rest of the world. The UK is the fourth richest nation in the world. We do not need to exploit others. We are ashamed to do so.

“I call on the Government to set an example by declaring itself to be a “Fairtrade Government” by purchasing only fairly traded products for its own use – to the highest level of office.”

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