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Volume 931: debated on Monday 9 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he is satisfied with the volumes of exports recorded for the last two months; and if he will make a statement on the efforts made by his Department to improve on this performance.

No, Sir. I am looking for a greater contribution from exports towards the elimination of the deficit on the current account of the United Kingdom's balance of payments.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the current trend in exports is rather worrying and that there has been a slight fall? Is he also aware that the trouble lies in the incentives to export, an example of which was the recent confusion over the taxation of people going abroad to market British exports? Could he do something to encourage exporting, because the Government are not doing it at the moment?

I am certainly aware that the recent trend in exports has not been as satisfactory as we should have liked, although in February and March our exports were up by 7 per cent. on the same period last year. America's exports fell in the first quarter this year, so it is not only our exports that are encountering difficulties. In regard to incentives, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates the importance of the new regime for exporters introduced recently by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Our latest estimate is that exports will increase by about 5½ per cent. in the next year.

Has my hon. Friend seen the report prepared by economists working for the NEDC, which pointed out that the difficulties with exports were arising from non-price factors, particularly design, quality and delivery dates? Does he agree with the report's conclusions which highlighted these reasons for our not maximising export effort?

I am sure that non-price factors are important, although it is impossible to quantify them precisely. British exports have generally always had a high reputation for quality, but not always for delivery. I think that the emphasis that the Government have given to securing export-led growth for our economy by a tight monetary policy on the home market should ensure that once the export drive gets under way it will be sustained and will not be broken off short.