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East-West Trade

Volume 176: debated on Wednesday 18 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what meetings he has had with his counterparts in the countries of eastern Europe in the past six months to discuss east-west trade.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs
(Mr. John Redwood)

During the past six months, Department of Trade and Industry Ministers have met their trade or industry counterparts from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary and Poland, as well as other Ministers from Bulgaria and Romania. I myself have held meetings in London with Ministers from Czechoslovakia, the USSR and Hungary, and have visited East Germany, Romania and Czechoslovakia.

Does the Minister agree that the fact that the previous Secretary of State was caught in a time warp and expressed extreme chauvinist views did nothing to enable him to encourage trade with eastern Europe, particularly with the German Democratic Republic? Does the hon. Gentleman further agree that the recent increase in premiums by the ECGD has not helped? Will he reconsider those premium levels, particularly as they affect trade with the Soviet Union?

My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made several successful visits to countries in eastern and central Europe, accompanied by business men who were very grateful for the help that he gave in presenting their case in those countries as a source of potential business. The evidence abounds. Joint ventures are increasing, and there is a growth in trade with countries in eastern and central Europe. The time warp is with the Opposition. They are the ones who want policies that failed in east and central Europe. They want to foist back on the British people interventionism, expensive subsidies and sweeteners, at the taxpayers' expense, which would not be successful. [Interruption.] Yes, I use the word "sweeteners". That is exactly what the Labour party wants, at the expense of the British taxpayer, and it would do great damage.

The Export Credits Guarantee Department makes short-term credits available, on various terms, to all the eastern and central European markets. The implementation of the EMS will be reviewed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

I welcome the efforts that have been made by successive Department of Trade and Industry Ministers to promote east-west trade. Can my hon. Friend give some examples of joint ventures that, so far, have been successful? That is one way, together with equity participation, in which this country could benefit more from trade with eastern and central European countries.

Joint ventures span several industries and activities. There are 60 in Poland and 48 in Hungary, by United Kingdom companies that are known to the Department. There may be others. For example, there is a well-known joint venture in railway equipment in Hungary, which is very successful. A British pub is being established in Hungary. A range of consumer and engineering industries will, I am sure, make a great contribution to United Kingdom economic activity in those countries.