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European Community (United Kingdom Exports)

Volume 982: debated on Monday 31 March 1980

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what was the value of exports to the European Economic Community in the most recent 12-month period for which figures are available; and how this compares with the previous 12-month period.

In 1979, United Kingdom exports of goods to the rest of the European Community were valued at £17·0 billion on a balance of payments basis, an increase of 30 per cent. on 1978.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that exports to EEC countries have increased sixfold since the year before Britain joined the Community? Does not that show how beneficial our membership of the Community is?

I am sure that my hon. Friend's figure must be right, but I should need to check it. Our exports to the EEC grew at four times the rate that our exports grew elsewhere in 1979, which was an excellent achievement.

Is it not true that our imports from the EEC have risen even faster, and that currently in manufactures we have a deficit of between £4 billion and £5 billion? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is one of the major causes of putting the nation on the dole?

Imports from the Community into the United Kingdom grew at about 25 per cent. in 1979, which was a rather slower growth than our exports to the Community. I do not remember the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question.

Our overall deficit was £2·7 billion. I shall give the hon. Gentleman a detailed breakdown of the figures if he wishes to have it.

Does not my right hon. Friend think that it is better to talk in terms of volume than in money terms, as inflation distorts the figures? Is it not a fact that the adverse element of the trading balance is increasing continually, showing how disadvantageous it has been to be a member of the European Community?

We operate our trade with the Community within a customs union. In my opinion we would wish to keep barriers down in our trade with the Community whether or not we were a member. I do not think that that is a particularly relevant point. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that the volume figures would look differently from the value figures.