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Export Promotion

Volume 928: debated on Monday 21 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will expand the governmental export promotion sales organisation and staff.

The export promotion organisation of my Department is adjusted, when necessary, in consultation with the British Overseas Trade Board, which advises me on the resources needed to provide appropriate services and promotional aids for exporters.

Will my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Defence switch the 390-strong Defence Sales Organisation to promoting non-military engineering and other exports? Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration the policy of President Carter that commercial matters should not be the only grounds for considering exports but that peace should also be taken into account, since war would cost us far more than the loss of a few arms orders?

As my hon. Friend knows, defence sales are under the control of the Defence Sales Organisation and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Non-military exports, on the other hand, are sponsored by my Department, and I will consider the resources that are necessary for assisting these exports in accordance with our judgment of the requirements. As I say, we shall adjust the resources devoted when we think it necessary.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the grave dissatisfaction of exporters with the recent changes in the policy of the British Overseas Trade Board with regard to joint venture schemes in outward bound missions? Will he have another look at these changes? In any case, is it not time now, Wednesday aside, for publication and review of all our export services?

The hon. Gentleman knows that a review is going on of many matters in that area. As for the grave dissatisfaction of exporters, the British Overseas Trade Board was asked by me to make certain savings in connection with the public expenditure cuts last year, and it assured me that it could do so without affecting the main thrust of its activities. I do not think it should be asumed that all expenditure in promoting exports is cost-effective. We give far more assistance in joint ventures and overseas trade fairs than the great majority of our main industrial competitors. I am satisfied that we are giving the help that is required.