The French are causing bother - again!
By Robert Sturdy MEPONCE again the French are stirring up trouble, threatening to single-handedly bring world trade talks to a standstill and preventing poor countries from helping themselves by refusing to stand up to their staunchly, stubborn protectionist farmers.
By Robert Sturdy MEP
ONCE again the French are stirring up trouble, threatening to single-handedly bring world trade talks to a standstill and preventing poor countries from helping themselves by refusing to stand up to their staunchly, stubborn protectionist farmers.
At the same time, Peter Mandelson is destroying European agriculture by allowing in cheap imports which don't satisfy our safety standards. Soon, all our food will come from Brazil, while everything else will be imported from China.
This may be an exaggeration, but it is made to highlight one of the big problems with the World Trade Organisation meeting due to be held in Hong Kong next month. How can 148 diverse countries with different needs reach a solution that will benefit them all? It is a momentous task. These talks started in 1996 and are still continuing.
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The amount of spin involved is truly extraordinary, no wonder Mr Mandelson seems to enjoy his job so much! What is scary is that decisions taken on the basis of highly technical and complex information presented to us really matters and will affect everyone, from Aldeburgh to Addis Ababa.
The aim of these talks is to put trade at the service of development. This will be the sixth Ministerial Conference attended by leading political figures from all over the world who are trying to reach multilateral trade agreements. But we don't seem to be getting much closer to achieving it. Some experts argue it is impossible, but we must continue striving to do so in order to benefit countries suffering from poverty. For example, if we could increase Africa's share of world trade by 1%, it would lift millions out of crippling poverty.
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It is always hard to make changes, particularly if you are going to lose out to some extent. Trade is where nice sounding policies meet economic realities and often this marriage is not a happy one. Furthermore, many of the changes that we are seeing in the world don't seem to be good ones; free trade sounds good in theory, but what if free trade isn't fair? If we want to make trade fairer and help the poorest people in the world, why are we changing our sugar regime to bankrupt our own producers and put African, Caribbean and Pacific island farmers out of business?
Some are saying that the WTO doesn't work, that we should go back to the drawing board and start again. Others urge patience as we inch towards a compromise that might please no one but could be another small step in the right direction. Both arguments have a desirable element, but we mustn't allow smaller issues, such as a dislike for Peter Mandelson or stroppy French farmers, to get in the way of the big picture. There is too much at stake.
Robert Study is one of three Conservative Euro MPs for the East of England.