By Tim Montgomerie
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As Nick Clegg has noted, there are global rules covering the trade of bananas but no rules on guns and grenades. International development minister Alan Duncan has today given a speech in which he has called for a UN treaty to govern the arms trade and tackle the illegal spread of weapons to conflict zones such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal and Yemen. It is estimated that 400,000 people die each year from illegally traded light weapons and that African GDP is depressed by an amount greater than the whole UK aid budget ($18 billion) because of conflict.
Talking to The Guardian Mr Duncan described the illegal arms trade as "the greatest threat to development, beyond disease and disaster." "We are," he said, "making some progress on issues such as polio and malaria.The factor that is most restraining development is conflict, which is why this new treaty is so important. It has massive implications for development."
The UK defence industry is already subject to strict controls and the aim is to extend these controls across the whole world:
"It is scandalous that there is currently no international regulation of the arms trade. The UK has one of the strongest arms export control systems in the world, which is why we are the forefront of these negotiations. The defence industry has produced pioneering technology, which has undoubtedly improved our world. Honest defence companies have nothing to fear from an international treaty. However, it is time to stamp out unscrupulous, greedy and immoral practices which lead to bloodshed and war."
Read Mr Duncan's full speech here but he wants a Treaty that is legally binding; subject to monitoring and reporting; requires arms exporting nations to consider a purchasing nation's human rights record; covers ammunition and small arms as well as fighter jets and other significant military hardware; and restricts possibilities for the purchaser to pass on any weapons to others.
The Development Minister made it clear he is not against the sale of arms but, perhaps with Russia and China in mind, he ended his speech with these words:
"A treaty will not prevent any country from being able to defend itself. Indeed, a state’s security force, when properly trained and resourced, can play a valuable role in ensuring stability and creating a climate in which development can flourish. An internationally agreed treaty will, however, close loopholes and gaps in legislation and it will ensure that globally high standards are in place to prevent irresponsible arms transfers taking place. It is long overdue. Let no one be in any doubt about our determination. I hope that all countries will share our view. The world will be watching to see who refuses to sign up to the Arms Trade Treaty."