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Import Restrictions

Volume 982: debated on Monday 31 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade how many countries' exports to the United Kingdom are subject to restrictions, either formal or informal, in the case of (a) clothing,and (b) footwear, other than rubber and canvas.

Imports of clothing from 35 countries are restricted under the multi-fibre arrangement and measures associated with it. Imports of footwear other than rubber or canvas from five countries are subject to restrictions.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the British market is one of the most open in the world and that it is being penetrated by countries which bend international rules, all too often aided in doing so by retailers and wholesalers in Britain who put their own interests before the interests of Britain? In those circumstances, will he cease supinely to accept agreements which are dictated largely by countries which do not permit that kind of penetration in their markets?

The hon. Gentleman has asked a very general question. Perhaps I may tell him that 95 per cent, of all the imports from low-cost suppliers of textiles are controlled under agreements negotiated by his own Government. Of total footwear imports into Britain, 25 per cent, are controlled.

As regards footwear, is my hon. Friend aware that it is the unique combination of dumped imports from Third world countries and the restrictions on exports to industrialized countries such as Canada, the United States and Australia, that makes matters so difficult for that industry? May we expect some change in the Government's attitude on this matter?

The Government are very conscious of the problems of the footwear industry. By his regular interventions, my hon. Friend makes sure that we remain so. We are pressing in every way that is open to us, through the Commission, for the removal of tariff barriers against our own footwear, and we have controls over a very substantial part of the imports from low-cost countries, about which my hon Friend was complaining.