My Lords, Her Majesty in her most gracious Speech reiterated this Government’s ambitious plans in the field of international relations. Many of the challenges facing the global community cannot be addressed in the absence of effective diplomacy.?
I recently visited Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where I spoke about the importance of diplomacy. I wholeheartedly welcome the United Kingdom-Uzbekistan partnership and co-operation agreement. This is the first PCA signed by Her Majesty’s Government with a central Asian country. The agreement facilitates broad co-operation in trade and investment, sustainable development, environmental protection, energy and human rights. The Economist magazine recently named Uzbekistan country of the year in recognition of the many positive developments made in the country. Noble Lords will be aware that Uzbekistan shares a border with Afghanistan and has been a reliable partner in combating terrorism and drug and human trafficking. I ask the Minister to inform your Lordships’ House whether the Government have any plans for further co-operation in these areas. Are there any plans to appoint a trade envoy for Uzbekistan?
I have spoken on several occasions, and led a debate in your Lordships’ House, on the importance of the Commonwealth. I shall speak particularly on one Commonwealth country: Sri Lanka. Britain has vibrant Sri Lankan communities which have made enormous contributions to this country. Sri Lanka’s location at the heart of the Indian Ocean means it is uniquely positioned to serve as a regional centre for trade and services. The World Bank has recently classified Sri Lanka as an upper middle-income country. FTAs are in place with India, Pakistan and Singapore. Comprehensive trade agreements are also being negotiated with China, Thailand and Bangladesh. It is worth noting that businesses based in Sri Lanka can market their products and services to 3.5 billion people on preferential terms. Through the Port City Colombo project, Sri Lanka is creating a new international financial centre that will function under its own jurisdiction. Will the Government be providing expertise or facilitating the adoption of an English legal framework for this region? I would like to see us investing more in Sri Lanka and expanding our trade with that country.
I turn to a country that has faced massive upheaval but has enormous potential: Sudan. I have visited Sudan on three occasions. As Omar Bashir has been deposed, the UK and the international community should endeavour to build a meaningful relationship with the country to achieve peace and foster harmony among the people with a democratic and prosperous future. There must of course be efforts to ensure respect for human rights. I therefore commend the Sudan peace talks that were held in Juba recently, organised by the troika that includes us, the United States and Norway. I hope that all interested stakeholders will work together to ensure that all the negotiations have positive results, which is what the people of Sudan deserve and expect.
Sudan is in a region where its neighbours face civil or political unrest. Sudan’s neighbour Libya is a transit route for illegal migration, human trafficking and terrorism. We need to work with Sudan to establish security in the region and combat terrorism and radicalisation. I would like to see us working closely with Sudan in helping it to build its agricultural and mining sectors. It was Lord Kitchener who established the University of Khartoum, following the death of General Gordon. We should therefore make efforts to ?build closer educational ties between universities in Sudan and in the UK. I ask the Minister: how can we strengthen our relationship with Sudan and assist that country in a positive way?
As we prepare for our imminent departure from the European Union, it is vital that we resurrect and strengthen economic and diplomatic relationships across the globe.