Skip to main content

Trade Balance

Volume 931: debated on Monday 9 May 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the latest balance of trade position.

There has been an underlying improvement in the United Kingdom's balance of payments position in recent months, which is expected to continue through 1977.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but is it not true that, although free trade might be a fine principle, imports come too easily into this country, with substantial effect on the textile and footwear industries and now also on special steels? Is he aware that the Japanese are now talking about taking 20 per cent. of our gardening tools market? Further, on the question of exports, will my right hon. Friend have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy about the surplus coal in this country? Why cannot we export it to the EEC in place of the imports which are coming from countries outside the EEC?

It is one of the objects of the multilateral trade negotiations, which the leaders at the summit asked should be given impetus, that trade should be free of impediments to exports and imports. In the specific areas to which my hon. Friend referred, the Government have taken action. For example, they have taken action in respect of footwear, although I know that further representations are to be made to me, and they have taken action in respect of steel and special steels. As regards textiles, my hon. Friend knows that the situation is currently the subject of the renegotiation of the multi-fibre arrangement. I shall certainly discuss the point about coal with my right hon. Friend.

Does the Secretary of State appraise our present trade position as Mr. Sam Brittan has suggested, from the point of view of a model of modern mercantilism? Second, in connection with the multilateral trade negotiations, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the principles of the common agricultural policy are entirely open to be renegotiated in the course of those negotiations?

As regards the standpoint from which I appraise the multilateral trade negotiations, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the 54-page lecture which I gave but which I hesitate to summarise at the moment. As for the part to be played by the common agricultural policy in the multilateral trade negotiations, it is quite understood that the multilateral trade negotiations cannot affect the general principles of the common agricultural policy.

That has been accepted as part of the European position in these negotiations, and I think that the United States also accepts it. That does not mean that other forms of action may not be possible in regard to agriculture.

I have not had the advantage of reading my right hon. Friend's 54-page lecture, so will he tell the House, in view of all the various statements made today which underline our point that we have effectively gained nothing out of being in the Common Market, whether in any part of that lecture he spells out what tiny advantages we have got from being in this monstrosity?

In the course of the lecture I briefly referred to our membership of the European Economic Community and I indicated some of the advantages in trade negotiations which have accrued to us therefrom. For example, in the specific area of textiles and the negotiation of the multi-fibre arrangement, I assure my hon. Friend that the views of this country would weigh a great deal less were they not associated with the views of eight other important trading nations.

I have not had the benefit of reading the right hon. Gentleman's lecture, but does he not agree that, unless some details of the common agricultural policy can be renegotiated at Geneva, there is a danger of the Geneva negotiations being fouled up altogether? Further, will he seek at Geneva to obtain some redefinition of anti-dumping?

As for whether the negotiations are likely to be fouled up, I believe that there is now a better understanding in Washington of the position of the European Community in respect of agricultural policy. I discussed this matter when I was in Washington, and I do not believe—although, of course, no one can at this stage guarantee it—that the problems of agriculture will prevent the successful outcome of the multilateral trade negotiations. As for anti-dumping, one of the issues which, I know, a number of countries involved in the multilateral trade negotiations wish to discuss is the problem of subsidies, and we should certainly like to see the United States Government bring their domestic legislation on countervailing into line with what was agreed by the constituent Powers many years ago.