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Japan

Volume 78: debated on Wednesday 1 May 1985

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12.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what are the prospects for trade with Japan.

United Kingdom exports to Japan in 1984 rose by 16 per cent. on the previous year, to almost £1 billion. I hope to see this favourable trend continue, but much will depend on the effectiveness of the Japanese Government's 9 April import promotion package and on the continued efforts of exporters.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Despite the restrictive practices of the Japanese, how do we compare with other would-be exporters, such as Germany, to Japan? Are all countries being treated equally unfairly?

All countries are finding it equally difficult to export to Japan. We do not have figures on a strictly comparable basis from our own sources, but according to Japanese figures, which differ slightly from ours in some respects, we have been doing rather better than the Germans in increasing our exports—our exports and imports are of the same order as those of the Germans—and we have been doing better than the French, whose exports to Japan fell last year.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one can lead a horse to water, but one cannot make it drink? In other words, unless our goods are what the Japanese people, as opposed to the Japanese Government, want, they are not likely to buy them. Does he further agree that we should equally ensure that our goods are better than Japanese goods?

Yes, indeed. The essence of a successful economic system must be competitiveness. In some areas our goods are selling extremely well in Japan. For example, Wedgwood china is selling so well there that Japanese manufacturers come as near as they dare to counterfeiting it in their imitations of the styling and the manner of marketing. So that is a clear case where competitiveness can pay.

Is the Secretary of State aware that these talks with the Japanese have been going on for many years, when a previous Tory Government were in office and when a Labour Government were in office and that the Japanese managed to string those Governments along by saying that they were going to change things a little bit later, but not just now, in favour of Britain? Will the right hon. Gentleman also bear in mind that one of the factors that enables British people to buy Japanese goods is that we are surrounded by hypocrisy? Is he aware, for instance, that at the time when the leader of the Liberal party was saying "Buy British" he was driving a Japanese car and that he stopped driving it only when he found that the British School of Motoring was to give £188,000 to the Liberal party, when he started driving a British car?

The hon. Gentleman is, as ever, amusing and, as ever, of course, he is deeply conscious of being surrounded by hypocrisy.