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Eastern Europe

Volume 167: debated on Wednesday 14 February 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the United Kingdom's balance of trade in manufactures in 1989 with (a) the USSR, (b) East Germany, (c) Poland, (d) Czechoslovakia and (e) Romania.

The hon. Lady will be delighted to know that in 1989 the United Kingdom had a surplus of more than £100 million with the five countries mentioned in her question, comprising a good surplus with the USSR and deficits with the other four.

Will the Minister confirm that the Select Committee on Trade and Industry said that Britain was lagging behind the countries of western Europe in its trade with eastern Europe because at that time we were importing more than we were exporting, reflecting the mess that the Government have made of our balance of payments overall? Is it not time that the Government took action to implement the Select Committee's recommendations on trade with eastern Europe, given the current massive and important changes that are taking place there?

The hon. Lady has asked the wrong question. She obviously wanted to get a different answer. Had she asked about Hungary and Bulgaria, she would have heard about surpluses. I have just arrived back from Czechoslovakia where I led a delegation of eight British business men to encourage more British trade. The Government will take all reasonable steps to encourage British businesses to take advantage of the many new opportunities in eastern Europe. I urge more British business men to visit eastern Europe to follow up the advances that many are making in those countries.

The whole House will praise my hon. Friend for the efforts that he has begun to put into trade with eastern Europe. In the process of expanding our connections, does the Department have any mechanism or unit for ensuring more secondment of people from the academic and industrial sectors here who can go over there to encourage those countries to look towards us and our processes, especially in distribution and marketing?

Yes, 25 people in the Department of Trade and Industry specialise in eastern Europe trade matters. Together with those in the Foreign Office, they are working on the distribution of know-how moneys from our know-how funds to strengthen such links for the reason that my hon. Friend so rightly described.