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EU and China trade negotiations

Morning press briefing from 31 August 2005

Press briefing from the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: EU and China trade negotiations and law and order

EU and China trade negotiations

Asked about the Prime Minister's view of the current trade negotiations between the EU and China, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) pointed out that the European Commission was the sole negotiator in these circumstances, not the Presidency. That was the case for any trade issue. The role of the Presidency was to support the Commission and to be aware of the overall mood and overall position throughout the EU, and there would be a variety of different positions towards such a dispute within the EU as a whole. Our basic attitude to free trade and our support for it were well known. However we recognised that there were implications for particular countries and producers which meant that transitional arrangements had to be made. In terms of the negotiations themselves he would not give a running commentary. In saying that he would point out that this issue was a precise illustration of those problems the Prime Minister articulated in his speech in Brussels on Europe.

It clearly illustrated the need for Europe as a whole to modernise to meet the challenge from China and India and other countries. Also for the UK both in terms of its attitude towards trade and its attitude to education and doing what was necessary to meet that challenge coming from other countries. As we saw in this case, the pace of change was picking up speed all the time. Therefore as a continent and as a country we had to meet that challenge. These were some of the themes that the Prime Minister would want to touch on during his visit next week.

Asked what the Prime Minister thought of the way the Commission had handled the dispute, the PMOS said that there were difficult balances to be struck in terms of supporting free trade but also recognising that there implications for producers in particular countries. Getting that balance right was always going to be a difficult task. What we did was support the Commission in trying to reach an agreement with China and countries within Europe. Put to him that the real dispute was not between the Commission and China but between EU member states and that therefore it should be the President of the EU brokering a detail to present to China, the PMOS repeated that first and foremost we were not the negotiating body in such issues. Secondly in any dispute you had to address the needs of both sides and the reality was that there were producers in the EU, in certain countries who would be affected by this issue. Therefore what you had to try and do was reach some sort of process which balanced the needs of those producers with the interests of China and so on. That was precisely the role the Commission was playing and we fully supported the Commission and the Commissioner in that.

Put to him that given the Prime Minister was going to China next week it would be impossible for him not to get involved personally with the negotiations, the PMOS said that the issue of trade was clearly an issue in general but the detail of this particular dispute was a matter for the Commission. Of course the issue would come up during the Prime Minister's visit but any detailed negotiations to take place on this particular issue would be a matter for the Commision. He pointed out that the President of the Commission and the Commissioner for trade would also be in Beijing with the Prime Minister since the first day of this visit was an EU-China summit. Similarly with the visit to India.

Asked about the interests of consumers in terms of the inflationary pressures this dispute was causing, the PMOS pointed out that yesterday the Commission itself recognised the interests of consumers along with those producers who had to be taken account of in this issue.

Asked if the Prime Minister had any sympathy with Digby Jones's view that the EU was falling back on its protectionist instincts, the PMOS said that in this kind of situation you always had to recognise that whilst of course we supported free trade, you still had to manage the process of transition, just as with the CAP you had to manage the effects of reform there. Put to him that that the management of that transition left something to be desired the PMOS said that the pace of change was something you could never predict in advance. What you had to recognise was that the pace of change was picking up all the time. Put to him that this dispute had been on the cards for years, the PMOS said that equally the pace of production in China had been accelerating at the same time, that's what he meant when he referred to the pace of change. That was equally true of market trends throughout the world including this country. There was clearly a differential in terms of responsiveness across Europe, that was obvious. Part of the Commission's task was to try and manage that differential impact.

Asked if the Prime Minister recognised the concern that the reason China could produce things cheaper than other developed countries was because of the absence of rights for workers and that by just competing on price we risked a race to the bottom, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister recognised that there were issues that Europe had to face up to. He would not get involved in discussing internal matters in China, but in terms of the overall issue of competition we had to recognise, as we had been saying for a long time, there was a need to develop high quality products that people wanted, and to use technology and innovation to do so. In terms of globalisation, the effects of that could be seen in China and India and throughout the world.

Asked what the summits with India and China would actually be about, the PMOS said that it was partly about listening to and seeing for ourselves the reality of globalisation and how the economies were transforming. Equally as we saw at Gleneagles, climate change remained very much an issue for both countries. The summit was about the EU and the UK's relationship with the two countries and taking forward the Gleneagles agenda which was about the transfer of clean technology and so on to countries such as India and China. It was also about the run up to the UN Millennium Summit in September and other general issues. There were also growing business relationships and there would be a large business delegation travelling with the Prime Minister.

Asked about the European directive regarding deportation the PMOS said that we should correctly understand the process. The Commission did not have the competence to impose restrictions. The role of the Commission was simply to put forward proposals which the Council, i.e. the Government, then decided whether to accept or not. We should wait and see what the Commission actually put forward before we give a view. On the issue of restrictions on deportation itself he would simply point out that other countries would have difficulties with this, not just the UK. In terms of our position we would have to actively opt in to any proposal, even if the council were to agree.

Law and order

Asked about the Prime Minister's concerns with respect to Law and Order given the spate of recent well publicised violent crime, the PMOS said that, as we had said many times, we had to keep the actual level of crime in perspective. It was going down. That did not diminish the concern towards individual outrages as we had seen and they will be investigated fully. The Prime Minister had put anti-social behaviour right at the centre of his agenda. That would continue to be the case and he would be addressing that later this week with an emphasis on the Government's respect agenda. He would not preview that now.

Asked of the Prime Minister had full confidence in Charles Clarke the PMOS said yes. The Prime Minister believed that the position of Home Secretary was one of the most difficult jobs in Government. The issue of terrorism was particularly difficult and the Home Secretary had the Prime Minister's full support. It seemed to him that that a lot of the recent press coverage of the Home Secretary and terrorism was sourced in an article written by Anthony Seldon on Sunday. He didn't do this often, but he wanted to make it clear that that article was plain wrong. Asked if anyone had been ordered not to talk to Anthony Seldon, the PMOS said that he wasn't aware that anyone had been talking to Anthony Seldon, so there was no need to order anyone not to talk to him. Quite the reverse, in that people had been asked to speak to Mr. Seldon but had refused.

Asked if the Prime Minister would express similar support for Sir Ian Blair, the PMOS said that clearly the Prime Minister had recognised the very difficult role the Met. performed. The public were fully aware of how hard the Met. and its Commissioner were working. No one was complacent about the threat posed and the Prime Minister fully supported the Met. and Sir Ian Blair in their efforts.

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