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Product Liability Insurance

Volume 934: debated on Monday 27 June 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what conclusions he has reached as a result of his Department's investigation into the difficulties being experienced by some United Kingdom exporters in obtaining product liability insurance for their exports to the United States of America.

My Department's investigation was announced on 13th May and information is still being collected. We hope to make a preliminary assessment next month.

Is the Minister aware that the effect of the American product liability insurance appears to be to erect something of a non-tariff barrier to trade? Can he say what estimate he has made of the effect of this legislation on British exports to the United States and whether he has made any representations to the United States Government?

We are concerned about this development. We hope that it will not develop into a non-tariff obstacle for our manufacturers. We have to get this into the correct perspective. It has developed out of the American legal system and it affects manufacturers both in the United States and elsewhere. We certainly take this matter very seriously, as is evidenced by the request for information that we have made to manufacturers here.

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the report in The Times last week was correct which said that his Department, together with the Department of Industry, was considering additional ways of helping smaller companies to tackle export markets? If that is so, will he tell us what additional steps he has in mind?

We are anxious to ensure that we consider the totality of the problem in relation to ECGD to see what effect that will have on the situation. It would be a little premature for us to divulge what the remedies are for what may be a very serious problem before we have entered into discussions with exporters.

Will the hon. Gentleman seek opportunities diplomatically to get the message to the American people, if necessary over the heads of their Government, that this protectionist device, especially in health products and medical products, is denying the American people marvellous benefits that are being enjoyed by much poorer people in other parts of the world?

We have this problem in a variety of areas, including shipping and aviation. It is a matter of examining the American legal process as well as the American political process. The hon. Gentleman need be in no doubt that if, following an investigation, we consider this to be a potentially damaging problem, we shall make the strongest representations.