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South Africa

Volume 894: debated on Monday 23 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the total of exports to and imports from South Africa in the most recent annual period for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement.

During the year ending May 1975 exports to South Africa were £616 million and imports £503 million on the usual overseas trade statistics basis. Our exports increased by 46 per cent. over the previous 12 months.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that these very good figures are one of the few bright spots in our gloomy trading position, and that trade with South Africa is good for this country and the preservation of jobs? Will he use his best endeavours to persuade his colleagues to avoid giving unnecessary offence to South Africa and its people in order to appease the extreme left wing of the Labour Party?

We would like to see our trade figures improve in every market, not merely South Africa. We have at long last lost our leading position as South Africa's major supplier, having been overtaken by West Germany. This has happened in a number of other countries and it is not necessarily related to the political feelings involved about the country concerned. Secondly, South Africa still remains one of our main markets. Thirdly, just before Christmas my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a forthright, clear and unambiguous statement about the political implications of trade with South Africa, and I have nothing to add.

Since they are relevant, will my hon. Friend give the comparable figures for our trade with the rest of Africa?

I cannot do so without prior notice, but I can say now that our trade with the rest of Africa has to be divided between trade with Nigeria—one of our great growth markets and a major oil producer—and a rather smaller quantity, both in exports and imports, with the rest of black Africa north of South Africa.

Will my hon. Friend tell the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) that a great procession of our people view with utter repugnance the type of racialist society existing in South Africa, and that any economic or trade deal seen to be bolstering up such a corrupt and immoral society would not be acceptable to that opinion?

Will the Under-Secretary also explain that the vast majority of our people are interested only in keeping their jobs and conducting trade with everyone, whoever it may be, that trade with South Africa is of great importance to us and that Her Majesty's Government should stop taking steps to try to cut it down?

We have taken no steps to cut down our trade in non-military goods with South Africa. We have banned arms exports, and I believe that such a policy is generally acceptable in the country as a whole. We have taken no steps to hinder the expansion of our trade in both directions with South Africa.