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Japanese Exports

Volume 934: debated on Monday 27 June 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on his policy on Japanese exports to Great Britain, in view of the effects on certain sectors of British industry.

We shall continue to look for Japanese restraint in cases where their exports would otherwise disrupt our market.

While the long-term solution to the problem must be the increased competitiveness of British industry, will my right hon. Friend, in association with his EEC counterparts, put more forcible pressure on the Japanese to restrain their exports to this country and to Western Europe, in the short term at least?

Both from this country and from within the European Community we are placing such pressure on the Japanese authorities and on industry, with some success. About one-third of our imports from Japan are subject to some kind of agreement about the level they will achieve. I am sure that the long-term answer to the problem is to increase our exports to Japan. It was to that end that I made a speech in Tokyo a couple of months ago. That speech was subsequently supported by the Vice-President of the Commission, Mr. Haferkamp, during his visit to Japan.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, if he wishes to increase the level of competitiveness and productivity of our industry, it will be done not by making speeches in Japan but by reducing taxation, so that our taxation can be on the same level as that of the Japanese, which is exactly half of ours?

I did not actually think that by making a speech in Japan I should increase the competitiveness of our industry. What I thought I might achieve was an increase in the access to the Japanese market for our industry, which would help to increase its competitiveness.

My right hon. Friend's speech in Japan was welcomed by industrialists in this country, but, having said what he has, will be go further and accept that there are many industries which feel that the Japanese are dumping in this country and that there is unfair competition? Our industrialists do not mind fair competition, but will my right hon. Friend recognise that the Japanese are adopting practices which are much deplored by British industry?

Wherever there is alleged dumping we look into it, but my hon. Friend must remember that it is not always a matter of dumping. Sometimes it is the fact that the Japanese are more competitive than we are. We therefore have to operate policies in a very difficult economic and social climate in order to protect industries, which are not yet competitive, against genuine Japanese competition.

We also wish in that context and against that background to improve our export performance in Japan, and I believe that that can be done with the assistance of the Japanese authorities. There are restrictions of an informal kind which limit imports into Japan, and I think the competitiveness of our industry would improve if we were able to gain greater access to the Japanese market.