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United Kingdom And Canada (Trade)

Volume 464: debated on Monday 9 May 1949

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As hon. Members will be aware, my right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, invited Mr. C. D. Howe, the Minister of Trade and Commerce in the Canadian Government, to visit this country and to speak at the Banquet of the British Industries Fair on 2nd May. During Mr. Howe's visit, Ministers had most valuable discussions with him about trade relations between this country and Canada. After a preliminary talk with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Howe had a series of meetings with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food, my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and myself.

In these meetings we dealt with every aspect of our trade relations, and we discussed the fundamental problems involved in the increase of trade between our two countries. Mr. Howe explained his Government were naturally most anxious that United Kingdom purchases from Canada should be expanded; we made clear to Mr. Howe that our desire to purchase more Canadian goods was limited only by the difficulty of payment, and that that difficulty could most quickly be relieved by an increase in the purchase of British goods by dollar countries. Mr. Howe assured us that the Canadian Government would give every support to the export drive to Canada which we are at present making, and to further which my right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, is leaving on a visit to Canada tomorrow.

The House will realise that in spite of our present difficulties we are still maintaining a high level of purchases from Canada. Our imports for the 12 months which will end in June this year will, it is estimated, total nearly 700 million dollars; they consist mainly of wheat, bacon, eggs and raw materials of many kinds. In addition, we now contemplate certain new purchases in 1949. We have informed Mr. Howe that we will purchase between three and four hundred thousand cases of canned salmon before the end of the year.

Special purchases of timber to the value of about 10 million dollars will be made in the United States and Canada, contracts being awarded on the basis of commercial considerations. These purchases will be over and above the amount of west coast timber which we are buying in the last half of 1949. We have further agreed that the quantity of flour to be bought from Canada under the provision of the Anglo-Canadian Wheat Agreement should, during the year 194950, amount to 400,000 tons. Limited purchases of Canadian apples and fruit pulp will also be made.

Our talks with Mr. Howe have been of great value in removing misunderstandings about our policy in regard to trade with North America. We hope that the additional purchases which we shall make will help to mitigate the difficulties that have been caused to Canada by our shortage of dollars. In any case, Mr. Howe's visit has made an important contribution to the understanding of our mutual problems, and I am sure that the House would wish me to express their gratitude to him for having come.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people on all sides were disturbed at the stories of the worsening economic relations between ourselves and Canada and will therefore be very glad to hear that Mr. Howe's visit has had such a beneficial result and will hope for equally good results from the visit of the President of the Board of Trade to Canada? Is he also aware that there are many of us who think that, even granting the difficulties which the Government face at the moment, it will be a short-sighted policy to sacrifice the long-term benefits of inter-imperial and particularly Canadian trade to meet those particular difficulties of the moment?

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House a little more information on the subject of flour? I think he mentioned the figure of 400,000 tons. Can he tell us whether that is an increase in flour as opposed to whole wheat? This is an important question in view of the feedingstuffs position.

I am afraid that I have not got all the figures, but I think it is rather more than we used to buy; it is a figure we have reached in agreement with Mr. Howe.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether any consideration was given to the possibility of a short-term dollar loan from Canada?

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether during these negotiations the interests of the Colonies were considered, particularly such colonies as Malaya, which has a large trade with Canada, in view of the very unfortunate results over the bilateral agreement with Holland owing to the failure to consult the Colonies?

Yes, Sir. We have had very valuable discussions with Mr. Howe about that and hope it will lead to quite large results.

In view of the fact that we made a specific declaration in these discussions that we were to increase our purchases from Canada, can my right hon. Friend give any indication whether Canada has undertaken to increase her purchases from us with a view to balancing our trade with Canada?

We got from Mr. Howe a promise, to which we attach the highest importance, that they will help to explain to Canadian purchasers why it is desirable to purchase British goods and to remove the difficulties.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the need for the greatest publicity throughout the length and breadth of Canada, because all the evidence is that there is a grave misunderstanding in all parts of Canada about the situation?

We do realise very acutely how much misunderstanding there has been in Canada, and that is why we so warmly welcomed Mr. Howe's visit and are so grateful to him for promising to help us.

Can the right hon. Gentleman inform the House whether we could not sell more of our goods to Canada and less to some of the countries in Europe, especially those that are unfriendly to us?

I think not. If the hon. and gallant Member has steel in mind, as probably he has, I would point out that we have made a very great increase in steel exports to Canada this year. They are now the highest single importer of our exports and we are sending them 85,000 tons this year, and if the supply position permits we shall perhaps send them a little more. The quantities we send to the other countries are small amounts which bring us a very big return in raw materials and goods we badly need.