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Exports Promotion

Volume 226: debated on Wednesday 16 June 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how his Department contributes to promotion of British exports overseas.

The overseas trade services jointly provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Trade and Industry offer a comprehensive range of expert advice and support to British exporters through commercial sections in 196 posts world wide.

Bearing in mind the Government's declared support for a major export drive, which must be sustained to ensure continuing recovery, and the apparent lack of interest shown in the subject by the Opposition —when only one of their members was able to attend a full-scale debate on the subject on 21 May—will my right hon. Friend assure the House that sufficient priority, expertise and resources will be given by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to posts overseas to meet the export challenge?

British exporters have told us unequivocally, and in public, that they value highly the commercial work which is undertaken by the diplomatic service and to which my hon. Friend alludes so graphically and accurately. That is, of course, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's largest single activity overseas. It is our aim to ensure that the service continues to have the resources necessary to enable heads of mission and their staff to maintain their commercially proactive role and to meet the demands made on them by exporters, directly and via the enhanced overseas trade services in this country.

How many embassies use their own property to entertain or to present exhibitions of British manufacturing and exporters' interests, as happened quite successfully a few years ago in Paris?

I think that practically all of them carry out those functions. The British embassy in Paris is using its premises to launch the new Rover model this year. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is an extremely important use for our overseas estate.

Would my right hon. Friend be willing to carry out a special inquiry into the failure of his Department and other agencies to match exports to the European Community with imports? Will he bear it very much in mind that this month we have broken the barrier of the £1 billion deficit since our membership? Is not that a chronic failure which is doing great damage to the l3ritish economy and to jobs and prosperity?

The export services to which I referred have made an enormous contribution to ensuring that our exports to the European Community have been as healthy as they have.