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European Community (Balance Of Trade)

Volume 21: debated on Monday 29 March 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will make a statement on the latest balance of trade figures between the United Kingdom and other European Community countries.

The United Kingdom had a slight surplus on trade with the Community according to the admittedly incomplete figures so far published for 1981.

I welcome that apparent surplus. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the value of our exports to EEC countries in the past eight years has increased more than sixfold and that West Germany has now become our largest customer? If that is so, should not those who contemplate the United Kingdom withdrawing from the EEC understand the damaging consequences of doing so, especially for Britain's economy?

I confirm the statistics quoted by my hon. Friend. I add my voice to those who would deprecate any erection of tariffs between the United Kingdom and the European Community.

Before deprecating anything, can the right hon. Gentleman give us the extent of the surplus that he mentioned and the level of our present oil exports to the EEC?

I am not clear that I have mentioned any surplus, and the figures quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) did not refer to any surplus. However, oil is a significant factor in the trade between the United Kingdom and the European Community. Taking one year with another, there is no surplus resulting from the United Kingdom's trade with the European Community. The right hon. Gentleman can make what he will of that.

If oil is left out of account and we deal only with trade in manufactures, is it not a fact that the cover of imports by exports is substantially better in our trade with the EEC than it is in our trade with either Japan or the United States?

Broadly speaking, yes. I agree with my hon. Friend's argument. The House might like to know that in the last four months of 1981 the deficit in trade in manufactures with the European Community amounted to £1, 400 million.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that we have a far larger trade deficit in manufactures with West Germany than we have with Japan and nearly every other country? Surely this shows that we are being given doctored figures by the apologists for the EEC.

The figures offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) are a far fairer interpretation of the relative balance between the United Kingdom and Germany and the United Kingdom and Japan than the figures presented by the hon. Gentleman. We have far greater access to the German market and a far better ratio of exports of our manufactured goods relative to our imports from Germany than we have with Japan.