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Volume 980: debated on Monday 3 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what recent representations he has received about trade with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

I have received representations both supporting and opposing the development of trade with the Soviet Union. The Government will continue to encourage mutually beneficial trade between our two countries.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the imbalance of trade between our two countries is running at a proportion of 2:1, with a deficit for us of £400 million annually? Does he not think that the Government ought to promote more energetic policies to balance our trade and that the matter assumes a political significance if we are ever to make an effective response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan?

We should like to see the imbalance in our trade reduced, and we are taking steps to encourage our exporters to seek mutually beneficial commercial opportunities for themselves. However, many of the things that we buy from Russia, such as diamonds, are subsequently resold and exported, and therefore the bare figures are slightly misleading.

If it is the Government's policy to encourage exports to the Soviet Union, what is the logic of saying to our athletes "But you cannot go"?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has listened carefully to the arguments. We believe that the Olympic Games are a gigantic political publicity act, and we do not believe that British athletes should take part in propagating the few attractive features of a country which invades others without cause.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the considerable tonnage of chromium and chromium oxide that we import from the Soviet Union and of the considerable reserves of that mineral in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia? Will he assure us that he will encourage trade in that mineral with Zimbabwe-Rhodesia rather than with the Soviet Union?

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall seek to promote trade with Zimbabwe-Rhodesia in every way open to us.

Is it not sheer hypocrisy for the Government to talk about encouraging trade with the Soviet Union and, at the same time, to try to discourage athletes from going to Moscow? Would it not be better for the Government to abandon the pressure which they are bringing to bear on athletes and, if we are to encourage trade at the same time, to say that they ought to go? If the Minister's argument is that we should not go to the Moscow Olympics because Russia has invaded Afganistan, will he confirm that most countries which go to the Olympics have supported invasions of one sort or another?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman listened to my reply about mutually beneficial trade. Perhaps he will be able to tell me later what is mutually beneficial about going to the Olympic Games and taking part in a gigantic propaganda exercise.

Will the Minister recall how he and his colleagues pontificated, when in opposition, about the disgraceful share of bilateral trade carried in British ships between the Soviet Union and this country? What have his Government done about that? Perhaps he would like to take instructions.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, any action on that front would have to be EEC-wide in order to be effective, and we are pressing for such EEC action.

Will my hon. Friend reconsider the situation regarding imports and exports between this country and the Soviet Union? Bearing in mind that what I have said before about Russian Christmas cards applies now to the greetings card industry as a whole, is my hon. Friend aware that hon. Members on both sides recognise the difficulties posed by the continual dumping of Russian greetings cards throughout the year?

I only hope that my hon. Friend received at Christmas the number of greetings cards to which his efforts on behalf of the industry would entitle him. He has brought a problem to our attention, and he knows that we are looking into the possibility of anti-dumping action.