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Food And Live Animals

Volume 889: debated on Monday 24 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what proportion of the United Kingdom trade deficit with EEC countries is attributable to trade in food and live animals.

In 1974 the "crude" trade deficit—that is, the difference between exports valued fob and imports valued cif—in food and live animals with the EEC Eight accounted for 55 per cent. of our crude trade deficit in all goods with the Eight. In January and February 1975, taken together, the proportion was 48 per cent.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Those results represent a large percentage of our trade deficit with the EEC. Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that that trade deficit came about in large part as a result of foodstuffs being purchased from the Community for the benefit of the consumer but to the disadvantage of our trade deficit?

There are two matters here. Some part within that undoubted switch of food trade to the EEC will have been due to the fact that exceptionally, in 1973 and 1974, food prices in Europe were lower than elsewhere, but another part of it is due to the treaty arrangements and the requirement to give preference to food trade within the EEC even when it is more expensive than foods available elsewhere.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the last time his Department made a formal statement about the reasons for the large size of our deficit with the EEC it mentioned the cheaper cost of food in the EEC but did not attribute the size of the deficit to our membership of the EEC? Since the Secretary of State said recently that he wanted people to take their decision in the referendum in full knowledge of the facts, is it not his duty to state his opinion about the factors which account for the large size of this deficit?

I would hesitate to embark upon that exercise and no doubt I should earn your rebuke, Mr. Speaker, if I were to make that statement at the moment. Perhaps the hon. Member, who is no doubt a devoted reader of the Economist, should have a look at the last issue, where he might find some of the answers.