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Volume 931: debated on Monday 9 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is his policy towards trade with Japan following his recent visit.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what further measures he proposes to take to encourage Anglo-Japanese trade following his recent visit to Japan.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what proposals he has for reversing the current trend in the balance of United Kingdom trade with Japan.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade, following his recent visit to Japan, what action is proposed regarding the United Kingdom's trade relations.

During my discussions with Japanese Ministers and business leaders, I stressed that a satisfactory trading relationship could not be achieved without a substantial increase in British exports to Japan. I look forward to Japanese co-operation in improving opportunites for imports from the United Kingdom and in continuing to restrain sensitive exports. The Government will continue to give strong support to British business men wishing to sell in Japan.

because, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, the ordinary person in the street is fed up with the fact that Japan is seeking to destroy vital industries in this country while refusing to accept British imports on the same terms as we accord to Japanese imports?

When in Tokyo I made perfectly clear to the Ministers concerned that we looked to an improvement in our exports to Japan and that the Japanese Government and industry could assist in that respect.

Does the Minister think that the tone of his remarks in Tokyo helped our relationships with Japan, particularly on a trading basis? Will he confirm that many of the so-called non-tariff barriers affect domestic products as they affect imported products? Is it not true that British manufacturers who set out to be as efficient as their Japanese counterparts enjoy a considerable measure of success when exporting to Japan?

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I thought my remarks in Tokyo helped our relations with Japan. When one discusses matters with another Government, it is best to make clear the anxieties that are felt at home. I made that perfectly clear, and I do not think it was misunderstood or that it in any way harmed our relations with Japan. Of course British manufacturers must produce the right product, but they find by experience that it is peculiarly difficult to sell in Japan even when products are competitive. This relates to reasons the removal of which could be assisted by the Japanese authorities.

Does the right hon. Gentleman share the scepticism of his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in recognising the futility of trying to improve the balance of payments by ministerial edict? When invisible earnings are taken into account, is it not arguable that our total trade with Japan is in surplus?

I do not expect to improve the balance of payments by ministerial edict. I believe that the Japanese Government could bring a certain influence to bear in terms of the level of Japanese imports. As for the level of invisible earnings, that matter has been discussed on many occasions. It is clear that invisible earnings are an advantage to this country, but they do not come anywhere near balancing our deficit with Japan.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the frank and novel way in which he spoke to the Japanese Government and industry, which undid some of the harm caused by the visits made to Japan by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition? Will he consult the Department of Industry and tell its officials to keep an eye on the industries set up by Japan in this country, since those industries are not becoming manufacturing industries but instead are assembling plant and components imported from the Far East?

The matter to which my hon. Friend refers is one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. My hon. Friend will no doubt know that the Department of Industry has brought pressure to bear on Japanese investors in this country to use locally-made components.

Since the communiqué issued after the recent summit meeting laid great stress on giving the Tokyo Round negotiations another boost, may I ask whether the Prime Minister of Japan and the President of the United States gave any indication of their wish to give the multilateral trade negotiations further help by reducing tariff barriers to our exports, since these are considerable in both countries?

I discussed this matter on a recent visit to Washington, and when in Tokyo I met the Japanese Prime Minister. Both countries felt it necessary to give an impetus to multilateral trade negotiations. This means removing non-tariff barriers which currently impede our exports to those countries. The problem in Japan, however, is not primarily a matter of formal obstacle. The trading system there does not allow freedom of imports in the same way as does the trading system in European countries.

In talking to firms in this country which wish to increase their exports, will the right hon. Gentleman encourage them to emulate British Leyland, which has taken the step of setting up its own offices in Tokyo with a view to pushing ahead with its exports?

Yes, Sir. Many British firms have devoted considerable efforts to increasing exports to Japan, and in the last five months for which we have figures in sterling terms the value of our exports shows a 42 per cent. increase over the equivalent period in the previous year. There is no doubt that currently British industry is making substantial efforts to export to Japan, but we could do even better if there were a change of attitude on the part of the Japanese.