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Manufactured Imports

Volume 167: debated on Wednesday 14 February 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what has been the growth in imports of manufactured goods from the European Community since 1979.

Imports of manufactured goods from the European Community have risen from £16 billion in 1979 to £52·5 billion in 1989. Exports of manufactured goods to the European Community have virtually trebled over the same period.

Does the Minister agree that those figures are disgraceful? Will the effect of the single European market be to worsen them? Is not this the wrong time to dismantle the functions of the Department of Trade and Industry? Would not that be idiotic? Does the Minister agree that wherever the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry goes, acts of madness follow?

No, I do not agree with that. Nor do I agree that the figures are disgraceful. The figures for exports are good, and we should be proud of the export efforts of a number of English manufacturers. The hon. Gentleman addresses only a quarter of the problem. He refers to visible trade but not to invisible trade, and to imports but not to exports. One must consider the total trade picture. It is about time the Opposition started realising that our trade position has been improving for five months. There is every sign in the latest surveys that exports will continue to improve this year.

Will not the development of Japanese-owned car assembly plants in this country do much to redress our trade deficit with the European Community over the next few years?

My hon. Friend makes the most important point of all so far in this exchange. There will be a major expansion of cars assembled in this country from 1·3 million to 2 million, and, as motor vehicles account for the biggest item in our manufactures deficit, right hon. and hon. Members can immediately calculate that a big change will result from the investment made here by Japanese companies.

The Minister seemed strangely reluctant to give the House the actual exports figure. Was that because Britain is in considerable deficit with the countries of the European Community? If so, did the Minister hear the Secretary of State a few minutes ago discarding the multi-fibre arrangement, contrary to the sentiments expressed by the Minister in a recent debate? That must result in an even greater loss to our textiles manufacturing industry, causing job losses throughout the country. Does not the Minister want to do something about that?

I have clearly given the figures required by the original question. Of course I accept that a deficit exists with some countries—most notably the Federal Republic of Germany. I also pointed out that the position is improving. The Government believe that open trading and the extension of the 1992 programme is the best way of narrowing the trade gap. I particularly draw the attention of the House to the important role of invisibles in our total trading performance. They will be improved if we can persuade our European partners to keep the 1992 programme on track and on time.