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British Exports To Eec Countries

Volume 414: debated on Tuesday 28 October 1980

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2.54 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what percentage of total United Kingdom visible exports went to EEC countries in 1973, 1979 and the first half of 1980, to what factors they ascribe this steady upward trend, and whether they expect it to continue, whether or not the United Kingdom remains a member of the Common Market.

My Lords, the percentages requested are 31, 42 and 42 respectively. There is little doubt that our membership of the European Community has contributed significantly to this increase. However, many other factors, such as increasing international specialisation, or movements in the price of oil, and exchange rates, help to determine the geographical pattern of United Kingdom exports. As to the future, Her Majesty's Government are unequivocally committed to membership of the Community. It is not my practice to make forecasts, but I certainly hope that exporters will take advantage of opportunities wherever they arise.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that these are impressive figures by any standard, not-withstanding the rather disappointing figures for the first half of 1980, which appear to be rather against the trend? However, should not much more be done to explain to everyone who is not bent on creating a Marxist-Socialist Britain that withdrawal from the Community, which now provides seven out of 10 of our most valuable export markets, and the discrimination against the United Kingdom which would be bound to follow, would seriously discourage foreign investment in this country, as well as cut exports? Does my noble friend also agree that these factors when added up can mean only heavier unemployment and a lower standard of living?

My Lords, my noble friend is of course quite right. Perhaps it is also worth remembering that barriers to our trade with Community countries have steadily lowered during the period reviewed by the Question, but if we were to leave the Market now or in the near future, those would undoubtedly rise again.

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister consider whether the figures that he has given do not suggest that there is a much wider market than that of the EEC open to the exports of this country, and that if the tariffs were lowered, as they have been within the EEC, without any question of Marxist socialism the standard of living of the people of this country could increase, the number of unemployed could be decreased, and our export market could be greatly expanded because—

Would the noble Lord agree that since at least half of the human race is outside the present market, we have there an opportunity for increasing the standard of living of the people of this country and reducing the unemployment which we are now seeing increasing?

My Lords, the noble Lord opened his supplementary question by referring to a lowering of tariffs. I am not quite sure which tariffs he means. If he means the tariffs that are erected by Third World countries against our exports, then I must tell him that that is not a matter for me. But if he is referring to European Community or United Kingdom tariffs against imports from the Third World, I should tell him that of course there has been a considerable lowering of tariffs in that area in recent years, and Third World countries now enjoy very considerable access to Community and United Kingdom markets.

My Lords, without widening too much the scope of the Question, can the Minister tell us the position regarding the balance of payments? In other words, by how much has the increase in imports from these countries increased, and what has been the effect on our balance of payments overseas of the trade with the EEC countries?