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Foreign Boycotts

Volume 938: debated on Monday 7 November 1977

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the trade loss to Great Britain through the secondary aspects of the Arab boycott.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will study recent United States legislation aimed at combating foreign boycotts of trade relations with friendly States, with a view to introducing similar legislation in the United Kingdom.

No figures are available for the effect of the boycott on our trade. We are keeping a close watch on the preparation of the American regulations, as regards both their possible extraterritorial impact on the United Kingdom and their potential effect on United States firms and their trading operations. But I have no present intention of introducing similar legislation.

In view of the fact that some 80 British companies have been abused by this boycott, involving the harassment of workers' jobs and investment potential, would my right hon. Friend like to go somewhat further and provide more than moral support to the companies, the management and trade unions which arc in volved in a considerable battle? The German experience is surely worth noting. The information is there.

We have made it clear repeatedly that we deplore the boycott. We are prepared to give advice to individual firms in exercising the judgment which they must make about how they react to the boycott. As for the "German experience ", I know of no German experience— I think I know of all the German experience to which my hon. Friend refers— that implies that Germany is in any way operating differently from the United Kingdom in relation to the boycott.

Will the Secretary of State accept that both the American and the Canadian Governments do more than the British Government to protect their business men from foreign boycotts? Does he not accept that there is a need for an EEC initiative in this respect, so that British business men can, without any problem, trade with whomsoever they wish?

Before we come to conclusions about the implications of either Canadian or American action, we have to study exactly what it is intended that those two countries will do in relation to the boycott. So far, one of my concerns about the American regulations is that they attempt to regulate the affairs not merely of American companies in the United States but of British companies in the United Kingdom. I hope that the Americans will find ways of fulfilling their policies which will not have an extraterritorial reach.

Does not the Secretary of State agree that the proposals of both the American and Canadian Governments have been pretty well known for a considerable while? Is it not possible for him at this stage to say what he feels could usefully be done to see whether we could follow some of their examples, although obviously not all of them?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The American regulations were issued in draft form, I believe, on 20th September. They are now open to comment, and the final regulations will not be issued until those comments have been received and, no doubt, considered by the American Administration. Nevertheless, I must emphasise two matters to the hon. Gentleman. First, our own export record to Israel is rather good relative to the records of other European countries and, indeed, that of the United States. Secondly, individual companies in this country are entitled to consider the impact upon their affairs and employment in their companies of one reaction or another to the Arab boycott.