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Japan (Motor Vehicles)

Volume 938: debated on Monday 7 November 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the current level of market penetration by Japanese car manufacturers in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the number and value of British motor vehicles exported to Japan during the nine-month period ended 30th September; and what were the comparable figures For each of the preceding two years.

I will publish the figures in the Official Report. I am disturbed at the level of market penetration.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the first six months of this year no fewer than 75,000 units were imported into Great Britain from Japan while at the same time no more than 416 units were exported from Great Britain to Japan? Is he aware that at the current rate this represents a total import of 150,000 units a year, representing a loss of between 10,000 and 15,000 jobs within the British economy? Will my right hon. Friend give us an undertaking that the days of pussyfooting with the Japanese are over and that in particular he will attempt to deal with the marketing strategies of the multinational companies which refuse to allow their British subsidiaries to export to Japan?

Order. May I say that if that length of question is repeated throughout Question Time we shall not reach No.14?

There is an understanding between the SMMT and the Japanese Automobile Association, renewed in September, that the level of market penetration this year will not be significantly different from what it was last year, though on the present figures that will be difficult to achieve. I have impressed upon the Japanese Ambassador the dangers to which this gives rise.

There is no question at all but that there would be greater employment in the United Kingdom economy and in the car industry if the United Kingdom could produce more cars. That would have a general effect on the level of import penetration.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in the first nine months of this year 121,000 Japanese vehicles were imported into the United Kingdom, compared with 86,000 in 1975 and 96,000 in 1976? What steps will he take to overcome the lethargy barrier that seems to afflict British industry in exporting British motor vehicles to Japan?

I am aware of the figures. The British industry has attempted to develop exports to Japan, but one problem, to which I have drawn attention in discussions with the Japanese Government, is the barriers which make it difficult for British exports—and, indeed, other European exports—to penetrate the Japanese market, and not only in respect of motor cars. We have repeatedly pressed upon the Japanese authorities the importance of bringing their accounts into better balance. It is vital that they should do so, otherwise there will undoubtedly be a reaction, whether from this country, from the European Community or from the United States.

Why single out Japan when the level of car imports in the first nine months of this year reached nearly £1 billion, and EEC imports were £707 million of this? Will the Secretary of State please put this into balance and stop some of his Back Benchers singling out Japan with adverse and sometimes unfair comments about the position as a whole?

The position in respect of imports of Japanese motor cars has to be seen against the background of the overall Japanese surplus with this country and. indeed, with the world as a whole. I believe that a surplus of that dimension —which, contrary to forecasts, has been increasing, not diminishing—is in the long run unacceptable if the world's trading system is to continue. That is the reason why so much concern needs to be expressed about Japanese exports and specifically about motor car exports.

Nevertheless, it is certainly true that the expansion in imports of motor cars has come primarily from Europe. It is equally true, I believe, that if the British motor car industry produced more motor cars it would improve both its domestic penetration and its export achievement.

What is the Government's attitude towards the Japanese efforts to establish factories in this country and employ British labour?

Can the Secretary of State tell the House how many private buyers of motor cars now buy imported cars? Will he say whether this is related to the availability of the British product?

Again, it is unfortunately true that a very large proportion I think well over 50 per cent. now—of private buyers are choosing imported cars, and I think that that is significantly affected by deliveries from British manufacturers. We cannot escape the fact that if we arc to deal with import penetration affecting motor cars we have to produce more cars within the United Kingdom and offer customers more reliable supplies.

Following are the figures:



£ million