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Exports (Non-Eec Countries)

Volume 894: debated on Monday 23 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what steps he is taking to encourage British manufacturers to increase exports to countries outside the EEC.

The Secretary of State for Trade and President of the Board of Trade
(Mr. Peter Shore)

My Department's export promotion services are being very heavily used by exporters. I am also seeking to assist exporters by ministerial visits to overseas markets and by strengthening the link between Government and industry through the British Overseas Trade Board and its new advisory council. ECGD facilities are also being extended.

I am sure that the whole House will congratulate my right hon. Friend on the energy with which he is pursuing his visits abroad to try to help firms to find and follow up markets. Does he not think, however, that as most of the CBI member firms put their eggs into the Common Market basket, and as the performance of many of the firms in the CBI is pretty poor outside the EEC as well as within it, he ought to have an investigation made of some of these firms, to see how their export departments are organised, how many people they have in the field and how many people are following up the work that he does? Does he not think that this is necessary?

I think there is a great deal of useful work to be done in firms themselves as to how they can best deploy their efforts, with particular emphasis on doing better in export markets, and I would certainly encourage firms to do that. One of the advantages of the planning agreement approach that we shall be developing soon will be to enable us to have a more structured discussion with firms about their export effort.

Concerning my hon. Friend's first point, it still remains the case that a very large part—indeed the larger part—of Britain's exports is to the rest of the world and only 35 per cent. goes to the EEC.

Does not the Secretary of State's answer to this Question smack of complacency? Is he really following up all the means used by other nations within GATT for increasing exports—for example, the Australian suggestion of double tax relief for money spent on export promotion? Does he agree that it is essential that more resources should be agreed for exports and less absorbed within our public sector?

I think I would accept that latter point that more of our resources must go into the balance of payments. That is undoubtedly the case, and that is the major strategy of the present Government. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no complacency at all in the Department of Trade about the requirements of Britain's export drive—none at all. I am very willing indeed to study any relevant experience and practice that other nations have which could be of assistance to our own export effort.