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Volume 87: debated on Wednesday 27 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is the current annual deficit on visible trade with Japan.

In the period from November 1984 to October 1985 the United Kingdom had a visible trade deficit of £3,054 million with Japan.

In view of the appallingly high and worsening deficit, is it not time that the British Government urgently convened a conference of all the countries in a similar position to plan concerted action against Japan, which would include specific targets for the reduction of the deficit? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that there is a great difference between free trade and so-called free trade conducted on unfair terms, which is the most evil form of protectionism?

I note my hon. Friend's remarks, and we discussed the matter on an earlier question. I am not sure whether a conference of the countries affected would be appropriate. We must await the Commission's proposals in the light of the visit to Japan. To be fair, in July the Japanese announced an action programme. They should now quantify what they expect to achieve from their import programme.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best method of reducing the trade deficit would be to persuade more British people to buy British goods? Is he aware of the action of the "Think British" campaign, and what will he do to support that campaign?

I strongly believe that people should buy British when British goods are competitive and are the best quality, as they so frequently are. I hope that people will note my hon. Friend's important point.

Is the Minister aware that we are doing precisely what the Japanese want us to do—playing the waiting game and taking no action? Why does the Minister not wake up and recognise that all the Western economies must take some concerted action to deal with the problem? The Japanese must be taught a lesson. They must play the game by the rules followed by all other major manufacturing nations. Why does the Minister not do something as he sits in his office?

The hon. Gentleman is a little unfair. The EC has just sent a mission to Japan—

The United Kingdom's trading policy must be directed through the EC, because it is a member of the Community. The Commission has just sent a mission to Japan, and a report will be published during the next few weeks. We shall discuss the matter in December and make any decisions thereafter.