Howard's Way 6 July 2006

Contributed by editor on Jul 06, 2006 - 12:08 AM

HOWARD'S WAY.... a weekly column from Michael Howard MP

6 July 2006

There were many things which caught people's attention and dominated the news last weekend. For understandable and obvious reasons in which I do not intend to dwell, one big story got very little attention.


A meeting to discuss progress on the latest round of trade talks failed to reach agreement. Does this matter? Does it affect you and me? Why should we bother about it? 

The answer is that it does matter. It matters desperately, for us and for the billions of people with whom we share our planet. First, the good news. The last couple of decades have seen the greatest reduction in poverty the world has ever seen.

Hundreds of millions of people, mainly but not exclusively in China and India were poor but are not today. They are not rich but they have escaped the grinding degradation of poverty. This is an enormous achievement which should be widely celebrated. It is the result, almost entirely, not of aid, important thought it is, but of trade. The fact that so many of the goods we buy and the services we use originate in China and India has led directly to the increased standard of living in these countries. And, so far at least, it has not impaired our ability to improve our standard of living, too. 

In this age of globalisation everyone can gain. But there are some parts of the world, most notably the African continent, which have yet to share in this growing prosperity. The current round of trade talks holds the key to their future. The responsibility of developed countries to respond to this challenge is immense. So far, unfortunately, there are few signs that they are discharging this responsibility effectively. 

The European Union, which has the task of negotiating on our behalf, is one of the main culprits. The reason goes back to a deal done by Tony Blair with other European Leaders in 2003 which led to a renewal of the Common Agricultural Policy for a further 10 years. This has limited the European Union's room to negotiate. A gloomy tale. And one which seems complicated and remote and may even cause some of you to shrug your shoulders and turn the page. But this is something that matters to all of us immensely. 

We must all hope that good sense will somehow prevail.