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Latin America

Volume 167: debated on Wednesday 14 February 1990

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11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on Britain's exports to and investment in Latin America.

In 1989 United Kingdom exports to Latin America were almost £1·2 billion. At the end of 1987, the last year for which figures are available, the level of United Kingdom direct investment in the region was almost £3 billion.

Should not we bear in mind that the combined economies of Latin America are far greater than those of Africa, the middle east and the Indian sub-continent put together? Should not we be putting more effort into our exports to Latin America, and perhaps expanding the medium-term export finance cover, particularly for Brazil and Argentina?

I hope that the opportunities around the world for both trade and investment will be exploited by British industry to an ever greater degree. I agree that Latin America remains an important market. Medium-term cover is available within an overall exposure limit for some of those countries, including Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela, which will present plenty of opportunities for our business men to export to them, at least.

The Government are allegedly committed to perestroika and glasnost. Which of the countries that the Secretary of State mentioned is supposedly a democracy, and how does he justify trade with any Latin American country that is not a democracy? Such trade is clearly an abuse of people's rights, when they know that—

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said, now that perestroika and glasnost have broken out in Leith. [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) must be able to hear the answer to his question.

Only in the past two weeks, the president of Mexico and the president-elect of Brazil have been in London. They are both democratically elected. Many other countries in South America are also democracies. I believe that we should treat them with all the respect that is due to democratic countries, and seek to trade with them to the maximum extent.

I understand that my right hon. Friend met the president-elect of Brazil when the latter visited the United Kingdom recently. My right hon. Friend has said that he is in favour of British manufacturing industry. What steps did he take to urge the Brazilian Government to reduce the huge tariffs that they impose against British exports, particularly textiles and clothing? Does he agree that British manufacturing industry should have a level playing field on which to operate, and what does he intend to do about that?

I will tell the hon. Gentleman what I have done. I raised my hon. Friend's points with the president-elect of Brazil, who gave me a fulsome undertaking that Brazil would play a full and forward part in the Uruguay round to reduce tariffs and protective devices of all kinds. He agreed with my hon. Friend's policy on free trade, which is also my policy—that we should clear away such restrictions—and I believe that Brazil will be very helpful in the forthcoming discussions.