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Exports And Imports

Volume 884: debated on Monday 13 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the ratio of the percentage increase in exports to that in imports to and from the EEC for all goods for the following periods: (a) 1970–73, and (b) between the first half of 1973 and the first half of 1974; and what were the ratios over the same periods for Great Britain's trade with the rest of the world.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will publish comparable statistics showing, since the United Kingdom joined the Common Market, the movement in the United Kingdom's export and import ratio, first, with the EEC and, secondly, in the rest of the world.

Between 1970 and 1973 the percentage increase in exports fob to the EEC(Six) was 58 per cent. of the percentage increase in imports cif; for the rest of the world it was 79 per cent. Between the first halves of 1973 and 1974 the corresponding figures were 75 per cent. and 52 per cent. for all commodities. With respect to trade with the EEC(Six) the ratios of exports fob to imports cif were 82 per cent., 73 per cent. and 67 per cent. in 1972, 1973 and the first 11 months of 1974; corresponding figures for trade with the rest of the world were 89 per cent., 80 per cent. and 72 per cent.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that although trade with the Community and the rest of the world has been on a downward trend, the decrease so far as the Community is concerned is much less? Will he therefore now admit that our trade with the Community is encouraging, and clearly shows the benefits of British membership in terms of both exports and employment?

I wondered what could possibly be the real meaning of this extraordinarily complicated Question, but if I have understood it correctly, the figures suggest the precisely opposite conclusion to that which the hon. Gentleman has so assiduously laboured to draw. I find no such conclusion inherent in the figures. I can only suggest that we both put on wet towels tonight and see whether we can examine them and find good sense in them.

Irrespective of the merits of the figures themselves, does my right hon. Friend agree that the ratio of percentage increase depends a great deal on the base on which one starts, and that that is a very tenuous principle on which to base any argument, wherever it may lead? In relation to the total trade with the EEC, will my right hon. Friend say whether there are any trends in any particular commodities which have caused the imbalance to which he drew the attention of the House on an earlier Question?

Leaving the statistical point on one side, on the question of the particular commodities or groups in our trade with the EEC where there has been a considerable deterioration which I would think stands out in the past two years—although there has been a fairly broad deterioration—is, first and obviously, the food trade, where we are now paying a very much larger sum for food imported from the EEC, and, second, imports of steel from the EEC.

Does the Secretary of State's inability to read these trend figures correctly show his opposition to our continued membership of the EEC on any terms? Has he concluded his consultations with his conscience, on the question whether he can remain a member of a Government who recommend the continued membership of the EEC? If so, will he advise the House of the outcome of those consultations?

The hon. Gentleman has drawn even more labyrinthine inferences from these obscure figures. I suggest again what I suggested earlier—that we should look very carefully at these figures. I should be very surprised indeed if they supported the point that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to make.