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Multi-Fibre Arrangement

Volume 13: debated on Monday 16 November 1981

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the multi-fibre arrangement negotiations.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the present state of negotiations for the renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the present stage of renegotiations of the multi-fibre arrangement.

The textile committee of the GATT will meet in Geneva on 18 November to begin the final phase of the renegotiation of the multi-fibre arrangement. The position to be taken by the European Community in these negotiations is due to be finalised by the Council of Ministers tomorrow in Brussels.

Will the Minister confirm that, among a myriad of aspects, outward processing counting against quotas and a social clause remain features that the United Kingdom will put forward in negotiations? Will he assure the House that when the mandate is finally agreed he will make a statement so that hon. Members can be kept abreast of developments? As the Minister knows, the textile industry views the negotiations with a great deal of concern. Will he assure the House that he intends to ensure that proper enforcement facilities are provided for the agreement when it is reached by the EEC? That was not a feature of the last arrangement.

The question of a statement is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the usual channels. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will take notice of what the hon. Gentleman says. If that does not happen, I shall ensure that he is made aware of what the hon. Gentleman says. We are well aware of the deep concern of hon. Members representing textile constituencies on both sides of the House.

The question of outward processing is very much in everyone's mind in the course of the negotiations. I have stressed on more than one occasion in ministerial Councils that any protocol negotiated in Geneva, particularly, for example, in relation to Mediterranean preferential suppliers, should be comprehensive, practical and readily enforceable. I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

Is the Minister aware that there is great concern in the House and the country that when he goes to Geneva tomorrow he should take a firm stand alongside France and Italy in seeking a tough MFA and that he should not seek to compromise as Germany does? Will he say that the Government are wholly committed to base levels that are based on existing trading levels, and not on 1982 quotas?

The Commission will negotiate on behalf of the members at Geneva. I shall not be present there, although it will be part of my duties to go to Brussels tomorrow. We are well aware of the concern. The hon. Gentleman has expressed his concern personally to me as a member of a delegation of what I might call textile Members.

The preferred position of Her Majesty's Government is that we should start at least from 1980 actual imports. I must, however, warn the House that this is a matter of negotiation. There are differences of view not only inside the European Community but also, clearly, outside. The Commission has endeavoured to produce some kind of proposals that will be developed in some detail tomorrow. I hope that we shall be able to reconcile the slightly divergent positions of the various members of the European Community.

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman be more precise? Are the British Government pressing that the EEC negotiating mandate shall include the requirement that the level of low-cost imports will be related to the level of demand in order to avoid any further disruption at a time of prolonged international slump? Will he also indicate whether the British Government are pressing that the negotiating mandate ensures that the global ceilings from countries covered by the MFA bilateral agreements shall be adjustable to take account of, first, low-cost imports from countries not covered by the agreements, notably the Mediterranean and ACP countries, and, secondly, outward processing?

I and those representing Her Majesty's Government at various levels in the negotiations at Brussels and Luxembourg have, I think, established clearly with the other members of the European Community that we attach importance to some kind of recession mechanism. I believe that this point has been taken on board. Global ceilings are crucial for those negotiating at Geneva. The question of ceilings for the Mediterranean or preferential suppliers is a separate matter. These will be taken carefully into account in the negotiated ceilings for countries that are parties to the MFA.

Will my hon. and learned Friend impress on the Germans and other like-minded States in the Community tomorrow that we have the largest textile industry in Europe, that our industry is the second largest employer in the country, and that ours is the industry under the greatest pressure in Europe? It is therefore imperative that we take a firm stand and do not give an inch in the renegotiation of the MFA.

The points made so perceptively by my hon. Friend are the points that I ventured to make to other members of the ministerial Council. I have stressed that our textile industry has had to shed about 150,000 jobs over the past 18 months. I think that the point has been clearly established in the minds of my ministerial colleagues in the Council.

Will the Minister take on board the fact that this is a vital interest for British industry? Will he make sure that in the discussions tomorrow the British interest is advanced forcefully, even to the extent of causing serious difficulty within the Community? Will he seek thereafter to make an early statement? His right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food comes frequently to the House to tell hon. Members about negotiations in that sphere. This negotiation is so important that I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman not to give the usual answer about business being the responsibility of the Leader of the House, but to undertake to make an early statement so that we know where we stand.

I cannot add to or embellish anything that I have stated earlier in the exchanges about a statement. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the procedures of the House. He is aware that the negotiations in Brussels to establish a common European Community position are technically part of the Foreign Affairs Council. It is questionable whether it would be for me to make a statement. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will take careful note of what the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have said.

As to whether the United Kingdom's position is expressed forcefully, the right hon. Gentleman should perhaps address my colleagues in the ministerial Council. I shall bear in mind his encouragement. I am well aware of the importance of the textile industry in the North, the North-West and the North-East. It will be no advantage to the textile industry if no credible negotiating position is achieved for the European Community before negotiations open in Geneva on 18 November.

Will my hon. and learned Friend bear in mind especially the threat to the British textile industry when Portugal and Spain become members of the EEC? Their transition from being non-EEC countries to EEC countries must reduce greatly the scope for the global total of imports of textiles from outside the EEC.

I took careful note of that point, which my hon. Friend made lucidly and persuasively in the Select Committee, of which he is a member. I assure him and the House that, naturally, these matters will be taken into account when the interim arrangements are negotiated with Portugal and Spain as part of their accession to the European Community.

To the extent that it is necessary to impress these matters upon the other member States in the negotiations tomorrow, will the Minister remind them that, in our country, the textile and clothing industry still employs 600,000 workers and, as he said, has already shed hundreds of thousands of workers in the last few years? He carries with him the full support of right hon. and hon. Members for a tough negotiating stance, without being protectionist, to preserve industries which are essential to our livelihood. At the end of the day, without jobs, we cannot buy any country's exports.

Like the previous Government, this Administration have never underestimated the importance of the textile industry both socially and economically.