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Japanese Steels

Volume 934: debated on Monday 27 June 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what progress has been made in the conversations in Osaka about the dumping of special steels by Japanese manufacturers; and if he will make a statement.

A Department of Trade investigation team paid two visits to firms in Osaka earlier this month in connection with the anti-dumping case on Japanese sections and flats. The team was not con- cerned with special steels because the Japanese have given the European Commission certain forecasts of export levels to the United Kingdom which should help to ease the United Kingdom's industry's difficulties in the immediate future.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the rather serious position that has developed in respect of special steels over the past three years? Is he aware that import penetration has increased from 10 per cent. to 50 per cent. on the home market and that Japanese imports in particular have increased from 84 tons of tooled steel in 1974 to 914 tons in 1976, with a doubling of imports of stainless steel bars? Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a case for more drastic action than merely forecasts from Japanese manufacturers?

I am well aware of the serious state of the special steels industry. I have discussed this issue with my hon. Friend and representatives from the industry. On the figures that I have, the overall import penetration rate was not 50 per cent. in 1976 but 32 per cent. However, I accept that there was a considerable increase. As for Japanese forecasts, we must take into account that in virtually all previous cases where the Japanese have made forecasts they have turned out to be met. To that extent they are rather more than what we mean by forecasts. In fact, they are firm predictions.

Does my hon. Friend realise that, in spite of the fact that we might have an admiration for the Japanese and how they produce special steels, their imports to this country are far greater than our industries can stand? When is he having discussions with them, and will he be firmer so as to ensure that they realise that they are harming industries in Great Britain?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we have been very firm. That is why the Japanese agreed in the talks of 23rd-24th May that their forecasts for this year for alloy tool steel and highspeed steel exports to the United Kingdom would be at a level that would bring them back to their 1975 export total. Furthermore, the latest forecast for stainless steel bars is 1,200 tons for this year, which is a substantial drop on last year's figure and an even greater drop on the earlier forecast level of exports of that product to this country for this year.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm to some of his hon. Friends and to some of mine that this is an example of where our membership of the EEC has undoubtedly been of help to us in arriving at an agreement which helps British industry?

I think that is perfectly fair. As a result of being in the European Economic Community, it has been possible through the Commission to have a greater effect on the Japanese than we could have had alone.

What was the extent of subsidisation of Japanese exports of special steels?

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that there is dumping of special steels, I must tell him that we have not received an application from our industry. If he is suggesting that there is some sort of internal subsidy that we can countervail, again the evidence has not been presented to us. However, if it were we would consider it carefully and take the necessary action.