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Manufactured Goods (Eec Countries)

Volume 886: debated on Monday 17 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will show the average level of tariffs imposed on United Kingdom imports of manufactured goods from EEC countries at the present time and prior to United Kingdom membership of the EEC, the corresponding figures for United Kingdom exports to EEC countries and the present value of the trade involved in each direction.

The average levels before accession were estimated to have been 10 per cent. for United Kingdom imports and 8½ per cent. for EEC imports. These have now been reduced to 4 per cent. and 3·4 per cent. respectively. In 1974 United Kingdom exports to and imports from the EEC Six were £3,813 million and £5,759 million on a balance of payments basis.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures he has given, together with the figures he gave earlier this afternoon, demonstrate once more that the balance of advantage in this arrangement has accrued to the EEC countries and not to us? Will he therefore confirm my view that if Britain should decide to withdraw from the Common Market it is most unlikely that the EEC countries would act against their own interests in restoring tariff barriers and, therefore, that the point about tariff barriers should not be taken seriously in the debate about Britain's continued membership?

Undoubtedly in the early period of our entry into the EEC the balance of advantage in trade has clearly been gained by the other countries. That is the general picture. Of course I wholly agree with my hon. Friend when he says that there would be very strong reasons on both sides of the Channel for maintaining a free trade arrangement if the British people decided to withdraw.

Why does the right hon. Gentleman keep rabbiting on about the terrible EEC deficit? [HON. MEMBERS: "Because it is true."] Will he say why he disagrees profoundly with the Prime Minister, who said quite categorically on 14th January that both sides of the House had always expected that in the initial period there would be a deficit situation as United Kingdom exporters built up their trade?

I seldom disagree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but on that occasion I think he must have been revealing his well-known generosity of character in being so kind to the Opposition.