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Import Controls

Volume 928: debated on Monday 21 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade which industries he is considering to subject to selective import controls.

The Government are ready to use temporary selective import controls to protect any normally viable industry which is suffering serious injury as a result of increased imports.

Assuming for a moment that the Government continue in office, will the right hon. Gentleman beware that in any protectionist war foreign competitors carry a much bigger clout than we do? In particular, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the paper industry there are three important lines of imports which British producers cannot produce in sufficient quantities? Will he remember the interests of the consumer in all this?

The interest of the consumer is one matter that has to be considered. The Government have made public their position on import controls. Our policy is well known, it has been discussed in the House repeatedly, and I have no change to announce today.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the hardest hit of all industries, by foreign countries, and the fastest declining, is footwear, and that the industry has every right to expect greater protection against foreign countries than it has had so far?

We control imports of footwear from Eastern Europe, and we have duties on, for example, Brazilian footwear. I am aware of the problems of the footwear industry, and we have taken action to give it protection. On the other hand, in our relations with Eastern Europe there are other considerations that have to be taken into account, and one is our exports to those countries.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the criteria by which dumping is established, and is he happy with the proposed transfer to Europe in the next month or two of responsibility for anti-dumping regulations?

The criteria for dumping are laid down both in our own legislation and in the GATT anti-dumping code. We have been using that legislation more rapidly and more effectively in recent months than ever before, and I think that there have been some expressions of satisfaction from industry on that account.

As for the transfer of responsibility on 1st July to the European Commission, the House knows that last year I discussed this matter with Sir Christopher Soames, and more recently I discussed it again with Vice-President Haferkamp to make sure that they are aware of the need to build up staff in Brussels to handle the case load that they will face when the transfer takes place. It is the intention to maintain a unit in my Department to assist in the investigation of anti-dumping cases.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Department of Applied Economics at Cambridge has again come out in favour of selective import controls as a safeguard in a necessary expansion of the economy, which is the only way to prevent unemployment rising to more than 2 million?

Although the department has kindly sent me a copy of its report, I have not yet had an opportunity of reading it in full. My impression is that, unlike my hon. Friend, it wants not selective import controls but general import controls. I think that would involve dangers, to which attention has been drawn on many occasions. If the forecasters, including those forecasters, are right in suggesting that this country will shortly be moving into a balance of payments surplus, it will make it even more difficult to use the sort of policy instrument recommended by Cambridge.