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World Trade

Volume 15: debated on Monday 14 December 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he anticipates any improvement in world trade by volume in 1982; and what prospects he sees for improving the United Kingdom's share therein.

World trade in manufactures seems likely to grow rather faster next year than in 1981. Whether we shall raise our share will depend on our ability as a nation to sustain and build on this year's success in reducing inflation and increasing productivity.

Will that stimulate the reaction of Western Governments or can it all depend on the hidden hand?

I hesitate to try to define exactly what my hon. Friend has in mind, but I believe that our future performance will be greatly affected by our efforts to return to being fully competitive in world trade.

Will the Minister explain what possible logic there is for a Government who profess to be keen to stimulate our exports cutting back drastically their assistance to the British Overseas Trade Board and to exporters trying to obtain markets abroad?

The right hon. Member is wrong in his assessment. It is necessary for all Departments of Government, in these times of economic restraint, to accept that resources available to them may be reduced. Nevertheless, it requires them to make the best possible use of those resources. With regard to the British Overseas Trade Board, there were areas where expenditure was not justified. We have sought to concentrate the resource s and to use them most beneficially in developing overseas trade.

Has not one of the most notable achievements of British industry in the past two years been the high level of exports made as against the expectations of, amongst others, the Treasury?

My hon. Friend is right, and our exporters deserve congratulations for doing distinctly better than was expected last year by the extra successes that they have registered.

The Minister talks repeatedly about being competitive. How does he explain that countries in Europe, such as West Germany with a Socialist Government, are far more competitive than we are with a Tory Government?

If the hon Gentleman studied the policies followed in West Germany he would realise how unsuitable his comments were. Our greatest weakness has been our loss of 50 per cent. in competitiveness in the period between 1975 and 1980. During 1981 we recovered that loss of competitiveness to the extent of 10 per cent. But we have to go on and be entirely successful in being competitive in world trade terms.