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Japan

Volume 33: debated on Monday 6 December 1982

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15.

asked the Minister for Trade, following the recent general agreement on tariffs and trade meeting, if Her Majesty's Government will take steps to persuade the Japanese to open up their markets to British goods and services to the same extent as United Kingdom markets are open to Japan.

The declaration of the GATT ministerial meeting explicitly recognised that imbalances are particularly detrimental to the stability of the international trading system. We and our EC partners will continue vigorously to press the Japanese to open further their markets to our exports.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Does he agree that on past experience it is unlikely that the Japanese will voluntarily concede what Britain is asking for? Therefore, does he agree that his previous answers and refusal to accept the tactics of the French will be received with disappointment by hon. Members on both sides of the House? Will he consider, rather than going to Aldridge-Brownhills, having safety checks on all Japanese cars at either Inverness or Caithness?

I am not sure that those tactics would be of advantage to the British consumer. Nor am I sure that they would be compatible with United Kingdom domestic legislation. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that we shall continue to press the case against the Japanese until their markets are open to our products.

What good reason is there, either theoretical or practical, to seek bilateral balance of trade between the United Kingdom and Japan? Do the Government intend to aim at bilateral balance with all our other trading partners?

No. We believe in the multilateral system, but, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, there is a considerable imbalance in our trading relations with Japan. That does not depend on a fair exchange of goods, but, to a considerable extent, on the fact that the Japanese market is less open than ours. That is why I express concern and will continue, with my right hon. and hon. Friends, to press the Japanese for fairer access to their markets.

Is the Minister aware of the increasing irritation of many large, respectable and reputable firms in Britain, especially in the electrical appliance industry, which are having their goods turned down by the Japanese on the ground that their machines do not meet the health and safety requirements set by the Japanese Government? Is he further aware that the Japanese Government seem to change their regulations depending on the country of origin and the type of product that is on offer? Will he therefore ask his advisers to look into this matter?

This is obviously a matter for concern. If the right hon. Gentleman will give me details, I shall ensure that every case is investigated. I understand that the ombudsman that was set up by the Japanese Government to deal with alleged cases of unfair practices in these matters has received only two complaints from British companies. If the right hon. Gentleman would like to direct his friends in that direction, to make better use of the ombudsman, it is possible that jointly we shall achieve something worth while.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the imbalance has grown up over many years and that, whatever he may say about the actions of the Japanese ombudsman, British industry believes that the intransigence of the Japanese Government has been largely responsible for the adverse balance? Does he also agree that something positive must be done in the near future if employment opportunities at home are to be preserved?

I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety. The Government and other Governments of the EC share it. That is why we have pressed, and will continue to press, the Japanese Government strongly. I must emphasis, however, that not all of the tariffs barriers are due to Japanese governmental intervention, if it can be so described. Many of the barriers are cultural. I must emphasise that the "imports ombudsman" has been going for only one year. It is a little early to judge whether he has succeeded.