HC Deb 22 June 1950 vol 476 cc1457-9
24. Mr. Nally

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement as to the present position of British rayon exports to Australia; and what action he has taken or proposes to take to draw the attention of the Australian Government to the serious consequences upon our rayon industry and upon Australian consumers of the decision to impose new duties upon rayon goods entering the Dominion.

27. Mr. Russell

asked the President of the Board of Trade what representations he has made to the Australian Government in connection with the recent increase of about 1,100 per cent. in the Australian customs duty on British as-well as foreign imports of rayon, which has reduced the proportionate value of the Empire preference; and what answer he has received.

Mr. H. Wilson

Exports of rayon piece goods from the United Kingdom to Australia in the first four months of 1950 amounted to £2.5 million. The United Kingdom High Commissioner in Canberra has made a formal approach to the Australian Government expressing the concern of His Majesty's Government at the increase in the British preferential tariff on rayon piece goods. We are awaiting a reply. I can assure the hon. Members that I am giving this matter the closest attention.

Mr. Nally

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it represented a gross breach of the Ottawa Agreement when the Conservative Administration in Australia imposed this bitterly restrictive and disastrous list of duties?

Mr. Wilson

I have expressed the concern which His Majesty's Government feel about this action. I should prefer to make no further comment until we have a report from the High Commissioner.

Mr. Russell

Is not it a fact that, under the Geneva Tariff Agreement, if the Australians wanted to increase the duty on foreign rayon they had to increase the duty on British rayon at the same time? Is not that one of the reasons for this action?

Mr. Wilson

That is another, and rather hypothetical question.

Sir Ronald Ross

Is not it true that it is impossible for Australian rayon factories at present to fill the very large gap which will be left by this prohibitive tariff on British rayon?

Air-Commodore Harvey

Did the Australian Government discuss this matter with the British representative before taking action? Is not this a case where we should get even closer to our Dominions and work out the problems together rather than at Geneva?

Mr. Wilson

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite right. Naturally, in all these matters we want the very closest relations. I should prefer not to comment on what actually happened in this case, and the result of the report by the Australian Tariff Board, until I have received the report to which I have referred.