HC Deb 08 May 1952 vol 500 cc532-3
17. Mr. Gerald Nabarro

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the 20-year-old scales of import duties on horticultural produce from Western Europe, notably fruit and vegetables, are now too low in relation to present price levels; and whether he will exercise the escape clause from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade with a view to increasing import duties on horticultural produce and affording adequate protection to home growers.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

In reply to the first part of the Question, my hon. Friend will be aware that I am already examining applications submitted by the National Farmers' Unions for increased protective duties on horticultural products.

As regards Article XIX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which, I assume, is the escape clause that my hon. Friend has in mind, this provides that individual tariff concessions may be withdrawn where, as a result of unforeseen developments, imports so increase as to cause, or threaten to cause, serious injury to domestic producers. The majority of our horticultural products are not the subject of tariff concessions which preclude any revision of the existing levels of duty and the question of action under Article XIX does not, therefore. arise.

In the few cases where we have undertaken not to increase the rates of duty on imports of fruit and vegetables from foreign sources, such imports are at present restricted on balance of payments grounds and accordingly the conditions contemplated in Article XIX are not fulfilled.

Mr. Nabarro

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the unforeseen circumstances to which he referred in his reply have, in fact, already arisen? The fruit and vegetable acreage of the United Kingdom has steadily been declining in the last two years and will not be increased until confidence is restored. Is it not therefore urgently necessary to review these import tariffs?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The point is that these tariffs are not all bound under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and, as these are not bound, the necessity in any circumstances of using Article XIX will not always arise.

Mr. Maurice Edelman

Is the Minister aware that his statement is totally at variance with the spirit of the liberalisation of European trade advocated by his party at Strasbourg and elsewhere?

Mr. Thorneycroft

My statement was a simple clarification of the factual position.