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Tariff Barriers

Volume 33: debated on Monday 6 December 1982

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asked the Minister for Trade what evidence he has that new tariff barriers to trade between the Western world trading nations and Japan may be erected, to the detriment of the United Kingdom.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that encouragement. Bearing in mind that Japan has got away with a great deal in the past two or three decades in terms of free and fair trade, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be wrong and tragic for the Western nations to retaliate by erecting new barriers? Should we not persuade Japan of the necessity and indispensability of opening its markets to us and to other exporters in the Western world?

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. One of the Government's and the European Community's preoccupations is to persuade Japan to dismantle some of its trade barriers. Japan has been reducing its tariff barriers under the Tokyo round, and accelerated reductions will start in January. That may have been the result of the visit of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Is it not a fact that we continue to bark at but never bite Japan? Following the Prime Minister's robust words in Copenhagen, will the Minister assure us that the Community will now put together a package on open trade which it will invite Japan to discuss, and that if that fails we shall take unilateral action?

Many discussions have taken place with Japan, and modest measures of liberalisation have been forthcoming as a result. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the Community is taking action against Japan under article XXIII of the GATT.

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his courteous reference to me earlier.

In the first three quarters of this year this country had a trade deficit with Japan of £1,488 million. Does the Minister regard himself as having had anything to do with that? For example, has he noticed that at the Smithfield show the low-cost all-purpose tractor, for which so many small farmers are looking, is now on offer by the Japanese? Will he invite British manufacturers of agricultural machinery to discuss with him how the new challenge can be met, or is that not part of his job?

I do not accept responsibility for every aspect of our trade. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must realise that Ministers have, not a marginal, but a limited impact on events of that kind. I am certain that tractor manufacturers will take note of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I suspect that it would be impertinent of me to tell them how to conduct their businesses.

In view of what the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said about the imbalance of trade, will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that in the past 12 months Japan has exported to us goods to the value of £2,000 million more than we have exported to it? As most of the imports that we take from Japan are not vital, should we not insist on fair trade between the two nations?

There is. It is on the basis that voluntary restraint arrangements have been negotiated.

Does the Minister agree that the covert barriers to trade between this country and Japan are the cause of greatest worry? Does he appreciate that the standards for cars exported to Japan are considerably higher than those required by the strictest state in the United States of America?

We are constantly drawing the Japanese Government's attention to the barriers that we perceive to our imports. The Japanese have produced only modest packages of liberalisation measures over the past two or three years.