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1995 - Mr Major’s Speech to Business Round Table Meeting

Below is the text of Mr Major's speech at the Business Round Table meeting in Gaza on 14th March 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

Let me just say a word or two before we get to questions in a few moments, following which there are other meetings to go to, and I hope we will all see one another later today.

I am very pleased to be here today with the Chairman for the first British/Palestinian Business to Business Round Table. The Chairman mentioned the European Union, and I think from wherever one stands, from whatever direction one comes, whether political or geographic, there is a communal interest in playing a role to try and find a satisfactory and lasting solution to the problems that have existed across the Middle East. They are not problems that can just be solved by politicians talking, they cannot just be solved by businessmen investing, they cannot just be solved by goodwill, they cannot be solved sometimes without perhaps an act of faith and risk or two. But it is in everyone's interest, whether in this room or beyond this room, that one is able to move towards a general solution.

I believe my colleagues in the European Union will be sensitive to some of the points that we have been discussing this morning, and I will certainly take those back and discuss them with my colleagues, both the political and the economic points that we have been discussing.

This morning we have a very large collection of businessmen, and I think the business community does have a role that it may be able to play in contributing to the reconstruction, the enormous challenge of reconstruction, which clearly is faced here at the moment. I have with me perhaps undoubtedly the strongest team of British businessmen ever collectively to leave British shores together. They represent some of Britain's largest companies, and the representatives who are here today are at the top of those particular companies, and all of those companies in different ways have demonstrated the ability of their enterprises to succeed, often in very difficult economic climates. A number of them are already big players in the Middle East, others are not, some have rightly been encouraged by the future prospects if the peace process were to be carried through to a satisfactory conclusion, to have a look for themselves and to see what new opportunities may exist. And I am very pleased of course that several who are with us are already extensively involved here in Gaza, including Mithan [phon] one of Northern Ireland's most successful companies.

Upon one thing I don't have any doubt at all, and that is the potential vibrancy of Palestinian entrepreneurs. A large number of Palestinian companies have taken a leading role already in developing the infrastructure of the Gulf, and clearly that infrastructural development is critical to the investment that may then follow it, but is unlikely in significant sums to precede it. There are a very large number of Palestinian businessmen who operate from the United Kingdom, so we are familiar with their potential abilities. And one of the aims, I hope, of this particular Round Table this morning will be to encourage new partnerships between British and Palestinian firms so that those abilities might be used for both economic, and through economic, for political benefit as well.

Later on today I will be announcing the establishment for this region of a Know-How programme, it is a system that we have used elsewhere in the world to very great effect. The purpose of the programme is to deliver Know-How, as the title itself suggests.

The programme is designed to transfer expertise to the Palestinian authority in fundamental areas that they will need to deal with in the future - health, water resources, sewerage and public sector management - all of those are vital areas of infrastructure for general well-being and in turn will help the private sector to invest and trade as those skills and as that infrastructure begins to get put in place.

One very remarkable tribute to the people of this area is the fact that the Palestinian community has the reputation for being the best educated across the Arab world, and I think that is a very impressive achievement when one considers the difficulties against which that has actually been achieved.

What I would like to see is that British education and training, and I am delighted that Pauline Perry is with us this morning, will help further to develop the human resources of business and industry in the area, and in this too the Know How Fund is going to help.

Let me also say that the Minister of State will be talking later about the provision of increased export credit to support trade between ourselves and the area. Richard will deal with those details a little later on this morning.

You have a very ambitious agenda, it is an ambitious agenda both in scope and ambition in terms of seeking to achieve something for the future from the difficulties that exist today. I am immensely encouraged at the people who are here today, not just the numbers of them but who they are, the people who are here today. I think there is a contribution they can play. Businessmen are hard-headed, they have to be hard-headed, they also have to be long-sighted, they have to look not just at the immediate return but at the long-term future of their enterprises, and one thing I can say to you, amongst those businessmen with us today that I know and in many cases have known for very many years, they are where they are because they are prepared to take a long-term view and their companies have shown that in their own activities time and time again.

The principal discussions today will not be, Mr Chairman, what you and I say to colleagues here today, but what they say one to another. So I will say no more at this moment, though of course you and I will be happy to answer any questions that colleagues may have before we leave them to their deliberations, So let me simply say it is immensely encouraging to see you all here today and I for one am deeply grateful that you are.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:

QUESTION:

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

They are saying we would like to know where the aid is going and where is the visible expression of what the aid has done to enable us to put our money into this area.

QUESTION:

Precisely this was the point.

[Small section indistinct].

States, via the European Union who I think have a bigger role to play than they have played yet, in order to deal with precisely the problems that you have raised, and I suspect others will raise after we have gone.

So you may be, if I am right in my judgment of what you will say, seeking a message that I fully understand, expected to hear, have heard even in this brief visit, and will certainly take back to where it needs to be. But I will not elaborate on that just now because the Chairman and I should have been elsewhere sometime ago.