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Footwear Imports

Volume 986: debated on Monday 16 June 1980

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16.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the current state of negotiations over quota imports of footwear from Eastern Europe.

Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania have been voluntarily restraining their exports of leather footwear to the United Kingdom. We are pressing for the continuation of these restraints. Imports of rubber footwear are subject to quantitative restriction.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the home market has decreased by 10 per cent. this year, and that in Northamptonshire alone more than 70 out of 110 firms are now on short time? In these circumstances will he give an assurance that there will be no increase in the quantities coming from Eastern Europe in the current year? Will he make strong representations for a decrease in the light of the reduced home market?

As my hon. Friend knows, because we have regular consultations on these matters, the imports from Eastern Europe, although they cause trouble, amount to only 2½ per cent. of the United Kingdom market. We agree that there is no scope for an increase in those quotas and that is the point that we are arguing with the Commission.

Does my hon. Friend agree that that 2½ per cent. is 2½ per cent. of the market before the fall and that it has now declined? Is it not true that the shoes that come in from Eastern Europe are bought in at less than the cost of production, and are therefore dumped? Will my hon. Friend say whether he has the power to stop any further imports of shoes from Eastern Europe? If so, will he do so; and, if he will not do so, will he say what other industries he intends to sustain while he continues to sacrifice the footwear industry in this country?

The country makes about £1,200 million in exports to Eastern Europe. The House and the Government must decide whether they wish to continue that trade or to give it up. In my view, many jobs in British industry depend on those exports. The problem for the Government is to strike a balance, and we do that by ensuring that there are restraints on a whole range of products from Eastern Europe.