The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Press Conference at the Economic Summit – 17 July 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference at the Economic Summit in London, on Wednesday 17th July 1991.


Thank you all very much for being here to attend this press conference.

We have had a very constructive and very enjoyable London Summit in the last couple of days, I think it has many virtues. The meeting brought out particularly clearly the extent to which we all share common values and common approaches to the main global issues that are at present before us.

As you will know, we took as our theme for this conference “Building world partnership and strengthening the international order”. I would pick out eight particular achievements from this Summit.

Firstly, on the political side in the text we released earlier this week the Gulf war and the aftermath have shown very clearly the crucial necessity for strengthening the United Nations. The Security Council and the Permanent Five of the Council in particular now work together probably as never before in the United Nations’ history. The United Nations can therefore become an instrument of peace-making and not just peace-keeping, fire prevention and not just fire fighting. and I think that is an important development.

We have also proposed concrete steps to enable the United Nations to carry out one of its most essential tasks dealing rapidly, speedily, effectively with emergencies. And probably only the United Nations has the prestige and the resources to mobilise the kind of international effort we need to tackle a large human or natural disaster. And we have seen a number of illustrations in recent years of the sort of disasters that require action that can best be coordinated and pushed ahead by the United Nations.

Amongst the suggestions that we have made is the designation of a high level official, answerable only to the United Nations Secretary General, responsible for directing and coordinating the international response to emergencies, including the mobilisation of financial resources.

And secondly at the summit our emphasis has been on ensuring that a country like Iraq can never again build up such a huge and a deadly arsenal. We have outlined a number of measures we intend to pursue to ensure the better regulation of conventional arms sales and we are all pressing for the early adoption of a United Nations arms register.

Thirdly, and turning to economic policy specifically, we recognise the increasing signs of economic recovery. These are very welcome but they do require us to maintain policies aimed at sustained recovery and at price stability. This strategy has created the conditions for sustainable growth and new jobs, it was very successful throughout the 1980s, it will I believe be equally successful throughout the 1990s.

And fourthly, and vitally in the context of this conference, we committed ourselves to an ambitious package of results from the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations. Everyone’s aim, everyone’s aim, is to complete the round before the end of 1991 and we will all remain personally involved to ensure that that happens. We simply cannot allow the Uruguay Round to fail and so we will intervene if differences can only be resolved at the highest level and we are all personally committed to that approach.

Fifthly, we renewed our firm commitment to support the economic and political reform efforts of the central and East European countries. We gave particular attention to improving their access to our markets since this is clearly one of the keys to increased foreign private investment in these countries and they need that investment to build up their economies and permit them to improve their own living standards and join the liberal market economies of the West.

And sixthly, we welcome the spread of the principles of good government in developing countries. But many of those countries, and especially the poorest amongst those countries, still need our financial and our technical assistance to buttress their own efforts. A particular achievement of this conference was the agreement on the need for additional debt relief measures for the poorest most indebted countries going well beyond the Toronto Terms that were agreed in 1988. I am very pleased about this, I have been pressing for improved debt relief assistance for the poorest countries since I was Chancellor in proposals I made at Trinidad some time ago.

And seventhly, we committed ourselves to work for a successful United Nations Conference on Environment and Development at Rio in June of next year. By the time of that Rio conference we aim to have achieved in particular a framework convention on climate change, an agreement on principles for forest conservation. And we also indicated that we support the negotiation of a framework convention on biological diversity by the end of next year. We also agreed to support financially the pilot programme for the conservation of the Brazilian tropical forest set in hand last year at the Houston Summit.

And finally, we agreed to increase our efforts to reduce the demand for drugs, to improve the capacity of law enforcement agencies, to target illicit drug movements. In order to do that we invited the Customs Cooperation Council, on the basis of a United Kingdom initiative, to strengthen its cooperation with international traders and with international carriers.

On the Soviet Union it was clear that we all support the moves towards political and economic transformation in the Soviet Union. we look forward to our meeting with President Gorbachev this afternoon. No-one present at the summit wanted to pre-judge those discussions and we will be making a separate statement on our meeting this evening together with President Gorbachev.

This was the first Economic Summit that I have attended as a Head of Government. I discover that you get to know one another extremely well on these occasions and I think that is very important for a variety of reasons. It is certainly very important for tackling the issues we face and for making sure that one understands the particular concerns and interests of all the people with whom you are negotiating. As you will know, these meetings do not on the whole take operational decisions but they do set the policy within which individual operational decisions are then taken, either multilaterally or bilaterally or in some cases simply domestically.

I believe in the present summit we have set policy in a constructive and relevant way, we have set policy in a way which will be welcomed I believe by many countries, by many organisations and by many individuals whose important interests we have sought to address in our discussions this week.

Perhaps I may just finally take this public opportunity to thank all the organisers, interpreters and the many people too numerous to mention who have played an operational role in making sure that the summit was as successful as it could be.

And finally If I may, perhaps at the risk of suffering for this over the course of the next few minutes, perhaps I may also thank you the press for the fair, full and frank way that I believe you have thus far reported the summit.



QUESTION (Peter Jay, BBC):

Prime Minister, what assurances have you received from your European colleagues, especially President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl, that they will communicate paragraph 10 of this declaration to their Farm Ministers and if none what confidence do you have that there will be a world multilateral trading system for Mr Gorbachev to join as and when the Soviet Union has undertaken the necessary economic reforms?


There was, Peter, in the discussions on the GATT round, some very frank, some very forceful debate and there was a remarkable unanimity on the political and the economic importance of ensuring that there was a successful round. Heads made it perfectly clear that they were prepared to commit themselves to personal involvement where necessary in order to resolve differences. And there are differences on agriculture, I do not think we should be hooked just on agriculture. there are great differences there but there are problems elsewhere on intellectual property, on services, on market access as well as agriculture, and on each of those it is necessary to make progress and if it is necessary for the Heads of Government to become involved then on the basis of our discussions they are committed to becoming involved in order to ensure that we reach an agreement within this calendar year – that is a global agreement and satisfactory to everyone on the question of the Uruguay Round.

There were many sub-plots to that particular text but I think there was a particular interest of course that it is very important for the developing countries as well that we actually reach a satisfactory agreement with open markets. There is very little point in us as the richest, wealthiest industrial nations in the world providing aid to the developing countries and then having a restraint in international trade that causes more damage to their economies than we can put right by the aid we give them.

So I think those arguments were very clearly expressed, very forcefully expressed and I believe the personal commitment that the Heads have undertaken to give will give this a real political push to make sure that we reach an agreement this year. It would be serious if we failed and we all know that.




What I perhaps should have added in my opening statement is that there was very considerable interest and concern expressed about the very important conference there will be in Rio next year, I hope personally to go to Rio, I believe a number of other Heads of Government will go there, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development will be immensely important, the most important conference of this sort that we have ever seen. And there will be many issues, no doubt that is one of them, there are others, the Brazilian rain forest issue I mentioned, and literally an enormous number of other issues and the right forum to address that will be the UN conference next year and it will be addressed there.


Might not President Gorbachev be forgiven for thinking there is a slight contradiction between the very strong support that you are giving to the reforms on paper and what he might expect to take home materially?


Let us actually consider the question of President Gorbachev when I have a later press conference today but I will make some general points now:

I think the first general point, Judith, is this: we have invited President Gorbachev to come and join us, the G7 Heads of Government, in order that we can discuss the Soviet economy, that we can discuss what remarkable progress it has made in the political and economic reforms and what still needs to be done.

We have invited President Gorbachev here because we share with President Gorbachev a wish to see progress towards economic reform in the Soviet Union. We have not invited him here to say we are not interested in it; we have invited him to say we are interested in it and you will see the outcome of those discussions in the later part of this afternoon, so I am not going to pre-judge what will be the outcome of them.

I think it is a matter of courtesy to discuss and listen to what President Gorbachev has to say and then to determine the extent to which we may help. We have helped very considerably over the past few years with the Soviet Union. The greater and much improved relationship there has been politically between the Soviet Union since President Gorbachev became President and the West generally is something of immense importance to all of us. He is here because we invited him here, because we are keen to see that progress on political and economic reform continue and it is an historic occasion to have the whole of the G7 Heads of Government sitting down with the President of the Soviet Union to discuss world matters and the particular problems there and I think President Gorbachev regards this as a very important event and so do we but it is not an isolated event. Nobody suggests that suddenly, when we have finished our discussions some time this afternoon, that that is going to be the end of debate between us – of course not. This is part of a continuing debate and it is part of a debate in which for some time we have been playing our part in helping the Soviet Union change its political and economic structure and we will continue to do that in future as well.


A question for the Prime Minister: I would like to know if you are satisfied with the result of the summit on arms sales and nonproliferation and especially I would like to know if you thought that the French delegation about this particular subject of arms sales and nonproliferation has been fully cooperative with the other six members of the G7.


Yes, I do. I do think that. We have got an agreed text on nonproliferation and on arms sales generally and there is no dispute about the objectives of that text and indeed, if I recall correctly, President Mitterrand has himself put forward his own initiatives on other occasions to deal with the general problems of arms proliferation, so I am very content with the text; I think it carries the debate forward. It must now go forward to the United Nations where the European Community countries will table language to actually carry this debate forward, so I am entirely content firstly that we have advanced the debate and secondly that there is a unanimity amongst all the G7 nations – as indeed there is amongst the other European Community nations not represented at G7 – that this is a matter of vital importance that we should develop further through the United Nations.


I notice from paragraph 44 that you have agreed on the need for additional debt relief for the poorest developing nations but apparently not agreed the additional debt relief. What are the problems here and are you personally disappointed that the words “Trinidad terms” are not in this summit communique?


No, no! They couldn’t be because “Trinidad terms” was a Commonwealth term. The reason we have agreed on the need is that we are not the forum that negotiates it; we are an integral part of the forum that negotiates it but the actual details of the debt relief will have to be negotiated in the Paris Club. It is now clear that it will be negotiated in the Paris Club but it is not for us, the G7, to make decisions that can properly be taken and only properly be taken in the Paris Club, so this gives a big push towards much greater debt relief for the very poorest countries exactly in the direction that we set out before. The details have yet to be determined but we are the wrong forum to determine the details but we are the right forum to make it clear that we, amongst the largest creditors of these poor indebted countries, are prepared to see a very substantial improvement in the write-off of their debts and we are, I emphasise, talking of write-off and not rescheduling.


You have spent a lot of time at the summit discussing the Middle East ranging from Iraq to the Middle East peace process and arms proliferation as well. You have talked about curtailing arms flows to the region and elsewhere in the world. Why was the G7 unable to decide to cut off arms sales to all of the conflicting parties in the Middle East peace process as distinct from a cutoff of weapons to countries like Kuwait which are facing the aggression from Iraq? Why not cut off the arms sales to the Middle East peace process countries in order to pursue this problem?


It is not a question in the way you put it of cutting off arms sales. All of the G7 countries believe that other sovereign nations have the right to self-defence. What we are concerned about and what other countries not represented at our Conference were concerned about as well, is where there is a growth of armaments to such an extent that it exceeds the armaments that are necessary for defence and provides an accumulation of armaments that is of a sufficient size for offensive purposes and that is why we see the advantages of transparency and a United Nations arms register and agreeing amongst ourselves criteria for the sale of conventional arms. So those were the matters that were principally in our minds; they, of course, are matters that we will have to develop in the United Nations.


Prime Minister, which section of this Declaration proved hardest to agree and why?


I sometimes think, Robin, you would ask me about the secrets of the confessional if you thought I would give you an answer!

There was very strenuous discussion on a number of aspects of it. There were very forceful points to be put. There was a very strenuous discussion on various aspects of the environment and on various aspects of the GATT Round but on all issues this was although friendly a very frank summit; people did speak their minds clearly, comprehensively and on occasions in an unforgettable way [Laughter] so I think it would be indelicate of me to pick out a particular highlight.


Prime Minister, the language in the communique is very strong indeed on the GATT but a sceptic might ask: “Such language was also included in Houston last year; why should we get the feeling that there is going to be progress in the Round by the end of 1991 if it could not have been achieved at the end of last year?”


That is the sort of question that can only be answered in retrospect by the actions that are taken. We have set out clearly our commitment. I believe on the basis of that commitment it would be perfectly possible, if it proved necessary, to actually call together a summit of Heads if the GATT Round looked as though it was going to fail. I don’t believe that will be necessary because I believe the commitment of Heads of Government that was expressed at this indicates that they will give it their personal involvement.

There are difficult issues on a whole range of subjects that have to be solved but I think everybody was very aware of the difficulties there would be if we did not get a satisfactory agreement to the GATT Round, not just the obvious dangers of protectionism and a trade war, not just the differences between the Community, the North American States and the Cairns Group but also the areas that are close to agreement that would increase the flow of world trade to everyone’s benefit – that would be lost if we fail to get an agreement to the GATT Round.

I think as people get closer to the deadline – and we of course in terms of negotiating this satisfactorily between now and the end of this year are close to a deadline – we have to start making progress speedily in a matter of weeks if we are going to get this thing satisfactorily concluded and I can only say to you, on the basis of what was said around the table and the concerns that were expressed around that table in a forceful and clear-cut way, that I have no doubt about the commitment of the Heads of Government to seek if at all possible to reach an agreement and there was an acknowledgement that this may mean for many individual countries painful decisions that in isolation they would prefer to avoid – it was expressly stated and expressly agreed that that would be the case – but the bigger prize for all of us is a loosening-up of world trade, a liberalisation of world trade, and a big step forward in the Uruguay Round, so I can only hope that you will accept our bona fides and I hope by 1 January next year I will be able to say to you: “We delivered!” Certainly, I think the commitment is there to deliver.


In a Political Declaration and up to yesterday, G7 expressed their political support for the peaceful settlement of the political crisis in Yugoslavia. What if such settlement cannot be reached? Are there any counter-measures to be taken?


I am not sure that us expressing details of that is helpful to the present situation in Yugoslavia. There have been a number of initiatives to actually ensure that the first and most important ingredient actually comes about and that is that one actually is able to stop the current bloodshed in Yugoslavia. There is a great deal thereafter to follow on that; it is clearly a difficult and a messy problem to be solved. There are particular difficulties: the Slovenes have one view, the Croatians another; there is of course the always constant concern of the position of the Serbs and perhaps the Serbian minority in Croatia but there is a very great European interest collectively in seeing that this matter is settled satisfactorily.

I have got no glib and easy answers that I can offer you this afternoon and I don’t believe there are any glib and easy answers that anyone could offer – not even the Foreign Secretary will be able to solve this matter in the next two or three minutes! But I can say to you that the understanding of the problem that exists within Yugoslavia was discussed at great length amongst the Foreign Ministers and has been discussed bilaterally amongst many of us. We all have an interest in making sure if we can, to the limits that we can do so, that there isn’t more fighting and bloodshed in Yugoslavia but the Yugoslavs at the end of the day must work out the way in which they proceed. We can express our own views and express our own hopes and express our own solutions but I don’t think we are in a position to impose them and I think we must wait and see how the debate develops.


Prime Minister, G7 has clearly been backing Japan’s demand to have her Islands back. How strongly will you back this afternoon the request for the independence of the Baltic States?


I am not going to go into the details of our discussions this afternoon. There are many things we want to discuss this afternoon with President Gorbachev and many of them are practical issues that arise out of the extensive Paper that he has prepared and that he has circulated to Heads of Government.

We have a great will to help where we can but that help has to be practical. We have to make sure there is no failure of dialogue between the Soviet Union and ourselves on a whole range of issues, including the ones you mentioned, including defence generally, including what the Soviet Union mean by “privatisation”, do they mean what we mean? Including what they mean by “liberalisation” and “price reform”; do they mean what we understand by those terms?

This afternoon is going to be an occasion where across the table – not in formal set-piece statements but across the table – in what I think will be a very constructive dialogue, we can actually examine those matters and reach conclusions about how best to go forward but this is not an occasion for backing people into a corner; it is an occasion for extending the continuing dialogue we have had with the Soviet Union and expressing our views as forcibly as I hope and believe President Gorbachev will express his own, but I don’t think the points you raised particularly will emerge as crunch-points this afternoon.


It is worth adding that the Baltic countries are mentioned in the Political Declaration so they are not forgotten; they are mentioned in the context of negotiations between the Soviet Union and the elected governments in the hope that they will resolve their future democratically and in accordance with the aspirations of the people. That is a re-statement of a familiar position but it does show that they have not been forgotten.


Prime Minister, the Declaration speaks about welcome signs of economic recovery but earlier on this week the Chancellor was talking about coming out of recession in the second half of this year. I can’t see actually those words mentioned in the Declaration. Are you both confident that the recession is now over and that it will happen in the second half of this year?


I will ask the Chancellor to speak first and then I will follow up what he has to say.


The view of the G7 was that the global recovery, the recovery of G7 from its lower rate of growth in the first six months of this year, was now happening; that recovery was under way both in Canada and in the United States and that whereas growth had slowed down in the first half of the year in France and Italy, growth would now be higher in the second half than they had anticipated, so for the global G7 economy we did see recovery and even for those countries that had not gone into recession an upward trend in growth.

For the UK, this very much fits in with this and the fact that the United States and Canada are coming out of recession will be enormously beneficial to us. The fact that European currencies have depreciated against the dollar will also be an added impetus to recovery, all of which I think are thoroughly consistent with what I have said about our recovery which is not yet under way, our recovery beginning in the second half of the year.


I don’t think there is anything to add to that. Thank you all very much indeed!