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Arab Boycott

Volume 928: debated on Monday 21 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will take measures to deny Government support and facilities for various kinds of trade transactions in order to combat the discriminatory effects of the Arab trade boycott.

My Department and the British Overseas Trade Board will continue to give advice and assistance to British exporters to the markets of the Middle East.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Government's lack of action has contrasted very unfavourably with that of other Gov1ernments in taking positive action against the boycott, against which they have expressed positive disapproval?

Our position in practice is the same as that of other Governments. We have indicated that we oppose and deplore the boycott, which lacks international authority. We have also said that it must be left to the decision of individual companies how they react in particular situations, although we give advice. In practice, our position is the same as that of our partners in the European Community and other Governments.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the authentications by the Government of boycott documents is regarded as a gross offence to Israel and those concerned with free trade? Will he reconsider this practice with the Foreign Secretary, who has openly condemned the Arab trade boycott?

As my hon. and learned Friend knows, this is a question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. It has been explained by Ministers in that Department, however, that what is authenticated is the signature of notaries.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the United States Government and the Government of Canada and their Departments of Trade have come out forcibly against the concept of a boycott against the interests of international trade? Surely he should be seriously considering bringing legislation in this country into line with that proposed by the United States and Canada.

We, too, have expressed our opposition to the boycott. I am examining what the United States is doing. It has further proposals for legislation which may be brought before Congress. As far as I am able to say at the moment, the practical effect of the present United States position is that it leaves to individual companies their own decisions as to how they react in the situation they are faced with. The practical effect, therefore, seems to be the same as the practical effect of our policy. If there are changes, we shall observe them.

What advice is the right hon. Gentleman giving to industries for which his Department is the sponsoring Ministry? Is he telling them to make up their own minds, or is he telling them to take the advice which the Government are giving and not give in to boycotts?

We give private advice on this matter to companies which ask us for it so that they may be aware of the nature of the problems known to us. A fact which is relevant in this context is that in 1976 our exports to Israel, I am glad to say, went up very substantially at a time when imports by Israel were stable or declining. In that respect, we have a good record in our trade with Israel. That is perhaps one measure by which our policy can be considered.