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East Germany

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met representatives of the East German Government; and what subjects were discussed.

I visited the German Democratic Republic and East Berlin from 12 to 16 March and met several Ministers and other officials, principally Deputy Foreign Minister Nier. We discussed a wide range of topics.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Can he tell the House, following the recent Leipzig affair, what prospects there are for this country to increase its export opportunities in East Germany? Is it true that there are opportunities for British manufacturers of machine tools and food and chemical processing equipment? What steps would he advise manufacturers to take to bring about those exports?

There are good prospects for British trade. I was glad to see that there were more than 140 British exhibitors at the Leipzig fair. That is more than ever before, and 66 British companies have the gold medal for regular attendance at the fair. As Mr. Wilson used to say, exporting is fun. The East German authorities have announced a substantial boost to their investment in all the areas that my hon. Friend identified. I believe that there are great opportunities for British companies which try to build up our trade. At the moment there is a heavy deficit in East Germany's favour, which we want to redress soon.

Did the Minister discuss the GDR's proposal, which arises out of an initiative made by the late Olaf Palmé, for a nuclear weapons-free corridor in Europe, including the whole of the GDR, part of the Federal Republic and designed eventually to link up with the Scandinavian nuclear-free area and the Balkan nuclear-free area, which, sadly has been closed, leading eventually to a nuclear weapons-free Europe?

I took the opportunity of a friendly and pleasant visit to say that I considered that proposal emptily propagandist. It sounded emptily propagandist when it fell from the lips of my East German colleagues, and it sounds even more emptily propagandist when it falls from the hon. Gentleman's lips.

The futility of nuclear-free zones is well known to most hon. Members. There is nothing to stop weapons outside such zones being targeted on places inside it, and there is nothing to stop mobile weapons, which the Warsaw pact has in abundance, from being brought into a so-called nuclear-free zone when the need arises. If we are to make progress in East-West relations, we should have less propaganda and more substantial and sensible proposals to discuss.