HOUSE OF COMMONS
Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation
DRAFT EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES (DEFINITION OF TREATIES) (EURO- MEDITERRANEAN AGREEMENT ESTABLISHING AN ASSOCIATION BETWEEN THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES AND THEIR MEMBER STATES AND THE REPUBLIC OF TUNISIA) ORDER 1996
Thursday 4 July 1996
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The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairman: Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody
Batiste, Mr. Spencer (Elmet)
Campbell, Mrs. Anne (Cambridge)
Conway, Mr. Derek (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
Davis, Mr. David (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office)
Day, Mr. Stephen (Cheadle)
Fatchett, Mr. Derek (Leeds, Central)
Garnier, Mr. Edward (Harborough)
Grant, Mr. Bernie (Tottenham)
Jackson, Mrs. Helen (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Kennedy, Mr. Charles (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)
Lloyd, Sir Peter (Fareham)
Moate, Sir Roger (Faversham)
Porter, Mr. David (Waveney)
Purchase, Mr. Ken (Wolverhampton, North-East)
Riddick, Mr. Graham (Colne Valley)
Rooney, Mr. Terry (Bradford, North)
Temple-Morris, Mr. Peter (Leominster)
Williams, Mr. Alan W. (Carmarthen)
Young, Mr. David (Bolton, South-East)
Mr. P. A. Evans, Committee Clerk2 3 Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation Thursday 4 July 1996
[MRS. GWYNETH DUNWOODY in the Chair]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Euro-Mediterranean Agreement Establishing an Association between the European Communities and their Member States and the Republic of Tunisia) Order 1996. On 17 July 1995, Tunisia became the first mediterranean country to sign a new Euro-Mediterranean agreement with the European Union as part of the European Union's aim of developing relations with the region. The agreement aims to intensify political and economic links through a broad range of measures: it will promote political dialogue, through high-level consultations and annual ministerial meetings; it is an important step in building closer trading links, leading in time to a free trade area; and it provides for expanded economic, social and cultural ties. The agreement is the first step towards a Euro-Mediterranean free trade area and full Euro-Mediterranean partnership. It represents a good balance, with advantages for both sides. It will provide trade opportunities and it will increase economic prosperity, political stability and regional security. I ask the Committee to support these important objectives by giving its approval to the principles behind the agreement, I commend the order to the Committee.
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central): We are all in total support of the order and welcome the Minister's words. It is good to see this degree of unanimity. The order is important for two reasons to which the Minister has already referred. First, it is politically important to open up and further deepen the relationships between north Africa and Europe. We see the advantages of that in political 4 and economic terms. As the Minister mentioned economic relations, it is worth stressing that 80 per cent. of Tunisia's trade is with the European Union but that trade between Britain and Tunisia is worth no more than £140 million or £150 million a year, if one takes the aggregate in both directions. If those figures are correct, the crucial point is that, while the order represents a challenge for the Tunisian economy in that it opens up Tunisia in a way that has not previously been the case, it also represents an opportunity and a challenge for the United Kingdom. I am sure that the Minister accepts that Britain has too often regarded north Africa and countries such as Tunisia as not being our natural trading partners or natural areas of political interest and influence. The order therefore represents an opportunity for Britain to be involved in inward investment and trade with Tunisia. If we look at the way in which the Tunisians say that the order will influence their economy, it is important to note the extent to which, in order to compete, the Tunisians will have to attract inward, direct investment. That inward investment could come equally from the United Kingdom as from other European Union partners. This is an opportunity for Britain as well as a challenge to the Tunisians. Secondly, the order, as with all European Union practices, stipulates a need to maintain improvement in human rights and democratic practices. That is important in all cases, not only in that of Tunisia. We will continue to emphasise those aspects, and I am delighted that the Government and our European Union partners emphasise exactly the same points. I am sure that the Tunisian Government will respect that element of the agreement. It is important for them in changing not only their economy but their political practices and in opening up to democracy. We recognise the threats from fundamentalism in that region. The best way to challenge and defeat fundamentalism is to have good human rights practices, an emphasis on democracy and a growing economy that will give people a stake and an increase in living standards. For all those reasons, I am delighted to support the order.
Mr. Davis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. I shall deal with the two points he raised. First, he discussed why British companies do not perform as well as one would like within the Maghreb generally and Tunisia in particular. The obvious answer is, I am afraid, that British companies are infamous for their lack of linguistic skills and they also tend to think of the Maghreb as a French area rather than as an area of British opportunity. We are doing what we can to put that right and to draw the agreement to the attention of companies. 5 Specifically, we are organising seminars and missions to look at one or two sectors only for the moment. In the past, a broad brush approach to the promotion of trade with Tunisia has not proved effective. Forthcoming events include a mission in July to deal with food processing, a water seminar in October and a fire detection equipment seminar in January 1997. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that the Government are taking his point seriously and dealing with it. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman raised the important matter of human rights. We acknowledge that Tunisia has a problem with the activities of fundamentalists, but we have on many occasions made clear to the Tunisians our anxiety about their treatment of some political opponents. A point to note about the agreement is that it contains a clause which specifically addresses human rights and allows either side to take appropriate measures, which can amount to 6 suspension of the agreement. However, we think that by drawing Tunisia into a close association with Europe, by improving stability and by making our points in this way we will have the strongest effect on that country and its behaviour. The agreement is an important first building block in the Euro-Mediterranean partnership and it is in the United Kingdom's interest that that progress continues. We should therefore give our firm support to the agreement.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Euro-Mediterranean Agreement Establishing an Association between the European Communities and their Member States and the Republic of Tunisia) Order 1996.
Committee rose at twenty-three minutes to Eleven o'clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth [Chairman]
Davis, Mr. David