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Synthetic Fibre Carpets

Volume 986: debated on Monday 16 June 1980

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10.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what has been the increase in imports of United States synthetic fibre carpets since the decision by the European Economic Community Commission not to authorise a quota on such imports.

The Commission's decision was based on statistics for 1979. Imports of man-made fibre tufted carpets amounted to 2·3 million square metres in the first quarter of 1980, compared with 1·7 million square metres in the last quarter of 1979.

Does not my hon. Friend accept that the percentage of our market taken by North American imports broadly doubled in the first four months of this year compared with the whole of last year, that United States production is based on artificially low oil and feed stock prices and that the EEC Commission has agreed only to keep the matter under surveillance? Does not my hon. Friend agree that the Government would be fully justified if they were to go back to the Commission and claim that our industry was suffering a serious injury?

As my hon. Friend knows, we applied to the Commission for quotas on carpets. The Commission turned down our application. It was argued that import penetration on carpets had reached about 10 per cent., whereas it had reached about 25 per cent. on the two products to which it gave approval for quotas. I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend that there has been very little change in that percentage since the date of our original application. At present, I do not think that the Commission will accept our argument for import quotas.

Why did the Minister accept the Commission's decision, when it will clearly harm industry in the United Kingdom? Does not he realise that unemployment in the carpet industry is increasing and that it is having a knock-on effect on industries such as the jute industry, causing the closure of factories in my constituency?

When we applied to the Commission, we put those arguments strongly. We need the Commission's cooperation if we are to have quotas that will stick. Under free circulation, goods could come in from other parts of the Community. That is why it is essential to have the Commission's co-operation in fixing such quotas.

Do not my hon. Friend and the Commission realise that the protection given to yarn manufacturers will be worthless if carpet manufacturers are not protected? Does he not accept that yarn makers sell their protected yarn only to carpet manufacturers and that every carpet manufacturer is going out of business?

My hon. and learned Friend has made a good point. We strongly made that same point at length to the Commission. However, as the Commission realises the importance of acting only within the rules of world trade, and as a level of penetration of 10 per cent. is not thought to amount to serious damage, it refused to accept our arguments.

Does the Minister realise that the problem will get worse? Is it not clear that the United States Congress will do nothing about the dual energy pricing gap and that there is no chance of anything happening until after the presidential election? Instead of lamely accepting the Commission's opinion, is it not time that the Government challenged it, and argued the case for a very important British interest?

The right hon. Gentleman is a very impressive armchair negotiator. However, he did not have much to shout about when he did the job. We pressed the case very strongly. According to the rules of world trade, the case for carpets does not stand up at present.