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Multi-Fibre Arrangement

Volume 974: debated on Monday 19 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what changes he would wish to be made in the multi-fibre arrangement when it comes up for renewal.

The Government recognise that there will be a need for continuing orderly marketing arrangements for textiles after the present multi-fibre arrangement expires, but it would be premature to consider now what form those arrangements should take.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is not only vital to the Yorkshire and Lancashire textile industries that a new and, preferably, strengthened MFA is negotiated, but that, once it is negotiated, the Commissioners should use their powers to monitor the operation to ensure that it is not abused, as it has been in the past?

I fully accept that the MFA is of great importance to the Yorkshire and Lancashire textile industries. It will be just as important for new marketing arrangements to be adequately monitored. I give my hon. Friend that assurance that they will be.

Will the Secretary of State indicate what weight he gives to representations from the jute industry regarding the maintenance of the position of the industry on Tayside? What action does he propose to take, through the EEC or in other ways, to prevent back-door importation of jute products, which will affect employment levels in Dundee and Tayside?

I am well aware of the importance of the jute industry to Dundee. Some of my hon. Friends have been concerned about the industry for many years and I could hardly not be so aware. If the hon. Gentleman will give me specific examples, I shall look into those with great care.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be provision for a meaningful annual review of any successor to the MFA, preferably to be incorporated in the current agreement, to see that restrictions on developing countries are not negatived by the increase of imports into this country from other sources?

The new MFA is not due for another two years. The bilateral agreements do not expire for another three years. It is not in the interest of the textile industry—although some people in the industry believe that it is—for us to be drawn into detailed discussions at this stage about the contents of the new agreement. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that we should ensure that, where imports fall outside the MFA arrangements, we are prepared, if there are sudden surges of imports, to look at the possibility of other restraint arrangements. That is what takes place now.

Will the Minister indicate when he believes that it will be appropriate to have discussions on the succeeding arrangement? Will he assure the House that, within the next 12 months, the trade unions and the employers federation in the wool textile industry will take part in such discussions?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and I have met two substantial delegations from the textile industry. We are always ready to meet further delegations on the subject. When the time arrives for discussion on the possible new regime we will be happy to meet representatives from the wool textile industry. I do not expect that the Community will wish to make firm decisions about the matter for another year, at least.

The Secretary of State will recall that part of the British agreement to the Tokyo round's conclusion was that the MFA would continue. Agreement was secured within the Community on that objective. The Secretary of State would reassure people in the industry, without going into detail, if he would confirm that a new MFA will contain levels of protection no less than those at present.

I am reluctant to use the term MFA, because it refers to a specific arrangement. It refers to about 27 separate bilateral arrangements. It is a mistake to use the term when, in three years' time, what the House, the country and the industry may want, is a different sort of arrangement. That is the only reason for my reluctance to talk specifically about a renewal of the MFA. I prefer to say that we shall need some form of orderly marketing arrangement to succeed it.