HC Deb 23 June 1954 vol 529 cc406-8
4. Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement concerning his recent discussions with the trade delegations from the Jamaican Government and the West Indies Regional Economic Committee.

Mr. Lyttelton

As my statement is rather long, I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the statement:

The purpose of the discussions was to consider the agricultural marketing problems of the British West Indian territories. The delegation from the Regional Economic Committee was concerned chiefly with the future of the citrus industry in the British Caribbean territories. The Jamaica delegation raised problems affecting other crops exported from Jamaica to the United Kingdom.

The delegations pointed out that the British West Indies depend chiefly on the United Kingdom as an export market for their agricultural produce. They also pointed out that the effective margin of Imperial Preference for some West Indian produce has been substantially reduced by rises in price which have taken place since the preference margins were fixed, and that competition from some foreign sources is directly or indirectly subsidised.

They asked that, in order to assure a continued market in the United Kingdom for their main export crops, Her Majesty's Government should as soon as possible take steps to secure the right to increase margins of preference and should introduce measures to safeguard West Indian exports against unfair forms of competition in the United Kingdom market through subsidised supplies from, or dumping by, other countries.

They referred to the expanded agricultural production achieved in the British West Indies, particularly in recent years with the help of Colonial Development and Welfare grants from the United Kingdom, and emphasised that agricultural advance in the British West Indies depended as much on markets as on increased efficiencies and improved methods of production.

It was made clear to the delegations that it would not be possible to guarantee a market in the United Kingdom for the whole of West Indian export crops, but I gave an assurance to the delegations that Her Majesty's Government, in recognition of their responsibility for the development and welfare of the Colonial Territories, were determined to do everything practicable to promote the continued prosperity of West Indian agriculture which looks to the United Kingdom as its chief market.

So far as tariffs are concerned, the delegations were reminded that, apart from Her Majesty's Government's international commitments on preferences, the tariff rates on some of the commodities with which they were concerned were bound.

On subsidies, the delegations were informed that Her Majesty's Government recognised that damage could be done to West Indian interests by subsidised competition and had recently joined in consultations, under the provisions of G.A.T.T., about the U.S. subsidies on citrus.

It was recalled that, at the Commonwealth Conference at Sydney this year, it was agreed that the forthcoming review of the G.A.T.T. should be preceded by consultation between Commonwealth countries. This would provide opportunity for Commonwealth discussion on all matters of common interest in regard to the review of the G.A.T.T. and in their study of these matters, including preferences, in preparation for this meeting, Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom would take into account the views which the delegations had expressed and the specific proposals they had made.

I also gave an assurance to the delegations that arrangements would be made for consultation with, and representation of, colonial interests both in the Commonwealth discussions before the G.A.T.T. review and subsequently in the G.A.T.T. review itself.

There will thus be a continuous direct representation of British West Indian interests in the whole course of the discussions leading up to and including the review of Her Majesty's Government's present international obligations under the G.A.T.T.

Apart from the discussion on tariffs and competition from foreign subsidised produce, the future of the West Indies banana and citrus industries was also discussed and the following conclusions reached.

On bananas, the Jamaica delegation was informed that Her Majesty's Government did not contemplate that it would be possible to justify the retention of quantitative restrictions on non-dollar bananas beyond the 30th June, 1455. Quotas could not be reduced but they would be maintained at the present level until that date when all import restrictions on non-dollar bananas would be lifted.

On citrus, the Regional Economic Committee delegation was informed that

  1. (1) Her Majesty's Government would make no further purchase of citrus products from funds made available in the present United States fiscal year under Section 550 of the Mutual Security Act;
  2. (2) No such purchase would be made under any future programme of United States aid without the colonial Governments being fully consulted in advance of any decision;
  3. (3) Her Majesty's Government would, if necessary, arrange for the purchase of any unsold balance of this year's export surplus of canned grapefruit from the West Indies at a price based on the average price at which the Ministry sold to the trade during the 1952–53 crop year.

The discussions revealed that the banana and citrus industries of the West Indies were liable to risks in the longer term which would not be met by the immediate arrangements described above. Apart from consideration of the representations by the West Indian delegations on tariffs and subsidised competition, to which reference was made in the earlier announcement, Her Majesty's Government undertook to proceed forthwith, in consultation with the colonial Governments concerned, to examine the nature and extent of these risks and to formulate within the next 12 months any scheme of assistance necessary to safeguard these industries.