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Council Of Ministers

Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 24 November 1982

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48.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last attended a meeting of the European Economic Community Council of Ministers; and if he will make a statement.

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council, which was held in Brussels on 22 and 23 November. 1 shall be making a statement to the House immediately after Question Time today.

Will the Secretary of State take an early opportunity to point out to EEC Ministers the difficulties that British manufacturers are experiencing in exporting to EEC countries? Is he aware that some of the tactics that have been adopted by some of our partners, including the French, are adding to the imbalance in manufactured goods in the EEC? Will the Minister make it clear to EEC Ministers and the House that, while Britain remains a member of the EEC, the Government will protect British industry by adopting suitable tactics?

The hon. Gentleman's last phrase suggests something quite different from the first part of his supplementary question. My reply to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is "Yes, Sir". If, as I suspect, the hon. Gentleman has particular cases in mind, I hope that he will let me have details. However, as to the latter part of his question, it is an essential part of our policy to maintain an open trading system.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the majority of problems for which we are seeking solutions within the Council of Ministers would have existed anyway, whether or not we were in the EEC? Is it not far better to resolve those difficulties within the Community?

Yes. We are trying to do that, although it can sometimes be difficult, particularly in times of recession. We are doing our best in that direction.

Will the Secretary of State clarify rumours, which seem to be circulating on a widespread basis, about the bid by France to block imports of New Zealand butter until a satisfactory agreement about the export of butter to the Soviet Union has been ironed out? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the allegations of a secret deal between Paris and Moscow on that issue?

No, Sir. The import of butter from New Zealand was part of the arrangements that were made when we joined the Community. That has been the subject of negotiation every so many years, including this year. We have negotiated, or are within sight of negotiating, a satisfactory agreement. We are entirely against the export of surpluses at subsidised prices to the Soviet Union.