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Industrial Goods (European Free Trade Area)

Volume 15: debated on Monday 14 December 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he has discussed with his European Economic Community counterparts the possibility of a free trade area for industrial goods in Europe.

The Community's free trade agreements with the EFTA countries already extend to nearly all the rest of Western Europe all the principal benefits of industrial free trade available within the Community itself. There are also preferential trade agreements with nonmember Mediterranean States. Greece will be fully integrated into the Community customs union in 1986, and negotiations for Portuguese and Spanish membership of the Community are in progress.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that full reply. Does he accept that the idea of a free trade area between this country and the remainder of the Community that excluded trade in agricultural products would be a non-starter? Does he further accept that even if such a project were available it would do nothing to solve the problem of British failure to compete in the industrial markets of the world?

I have noted my hon. Friend's judgment with regard to his first point, but I emphasise to him that in 1981 there is evidence of our increasing competitiveness in the export of industrial goods.

Does the Minister agree that the remarks of the hon. Member for Hint, West (Sir A. Meyer) were utter nonsense? Does he further agree that in his initiative with our partners in the EEC he should be working either for the abolition of the CAP, or for its combination with a common industrial policy, which would have the same aims for the weaker industries as the CAP has for the weaker agricultural countries? Will he take that initiative?

I have noted the hon. Gentleman's points. The responsibility for those areas lies mainly with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.