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European Economic Community

Volume 980: debated on Monday 3 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he is satisfied with the present balance of trade between the United Kingdom and the European Economic Community.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he is satisfied with the development of United Kingdom manufactured exports to the other European Economic Community countries in the last six months.

No, Sir. I look for improvement in our trade performance with the European Community in both manufactured goods and overall.

Since the balance of our trade with the EEC can hardly be called "mutually beneficial"—to use the Minister's own words—because it is overwhelmingly in favour of the EEC, will he undertake to draw the attention of his right hon. Friends in the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who are engaged in negotiations with the EEC to this important bargaining counter for use by us in those negotiations?

From time to time the hon. Gentleman should put aside his anti-EEC prejudices and look at the facts. Our exports to the EEC last year amounted to £18,000 million. Our exports of manufactures grew by 21 per cent. last year—far faster with the EEC than with any other part of the world. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we would help ourselves by cutting ourselves off from those markets?

Would my hon. Friend think it prudent to ask his officials to start a formal investigation into trading alternatives to the EEC for the United Kingdom, because if the rest of the countries prove to be as intransigent as the French are at present, we may need those alternatives?

That would be a fairly fruitless exercise. We do 42 per cent. of all our trade with the EEC, and searching around for trading partners to replace that 42 per cent. would seem to me to be a waste of time. We should concentrate on improving our own performance.

Does not the Minister recognise that while this massive imbalance in the import and export of manufactured goods between this country and the EEC continues we are, in effect, financing the modernisation of French German and Italian industries from North Sea oil?

The hon. Gentleman's thought processes always intrigue me, and his assertion is a particularly interesting production of those unusual thought processes.