HC Deb 16 April 1957 vol 568 cc1722-5
1. Sir L. Plummer

asked the President of the Board of Trade why he differentiates in granting export licences for China between goods embargoed for export to the Soviet blocprior to October, 1954, and since freed, and those goods not embargoed at that time.

The President of the Board of Trade (Sir David Eccles)

I would refer the hon. Member to the Answer given on 9th April by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen).

Sir L. Plummer

May I ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will now consider that goods which are no longer on the embargo list of the Soviet Union should be allowed freely to be exported to China, and that the matter is now one of growing urgency? Could we now have his attention in the direction of expanding and not restricting our trade?

Sir D. Eccles

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the exact matter he talks about is soon to be discussed with the other nations which have taken part in the agreement.

Sir R. Boothby

Is not it a fact that this matter has been discussed very many times with the other nations concerned and that this has now gone on for nearly two years? May I ask whether my right hon. Friend really is satisfied with the present position regarding trade with China, which has become something of a scandal?

Sir D. Eccles

As my hon. Friend knows, the Foreign Secretary told the House the other day that we were not willing to wait very much longer to get some changes in the situation.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Is not this now the time to have decision rather than discussion? We cannot go on being told we must wait a little longer—it all adds up to months and months and months.

Sir D. Eccles

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we should try to do these things in concert with our allies.

5. Mr. Teeling

asked the President of the Board of Trade what percentage the figures for trade with the Chinese mainland in 1936, 1946 and 1956 represented of the total trade of the United Kingdom with countries other than members of the Commonwealth.

Sir D. Eccles

The figures are 1.8 per cent., 0.9 per cent. and 0.6 per cent. respectively.

Mr. Teeling

In view of those figures, does not my right hon. Friend consider that we ought to think twice before coming to a decision which very evidently will alienate many people in the Far East—and far more than the people in this country realise?

Mr. Stokes

As the President will not answer that Question, may I follow it up by asking whether he is aware that there is here a potential market of 600 million people? Some of us engaged in trade are getting fed up with the restrictions of the Government, which not only discourage any trade with China, but make it almost impossible for trade representatives to get over the boundary.

Sir D. Eccles

I did not wish to he discourteous to my hon. Friend. I was not sure to what decision he was referring. In answer to the question asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), I would say that I have been looking into the potential volume of the Chinese trade. It is a fact that Chinese trade is in balance with us, and as far as I can see, unless China sells less to Russia, or gets a credit from Russia, there is very little chance of any substantial expansion.

Mr. Stokes

The President speaks in a state of vacuum. Is he aware that the Chinese propose to build 19 dams, and that I am very much interested in them? As I can do nothing about it at the present time, will Her Majesty's Government start to make it possible for us to enter into discussions?

Sir D. Eccles

I think the question will come as to how the Chinese will pay for those dams. Perhaps the interested right hon. Gentleman will tell us.

8 and 9. Mr. Lewis

asked the President of the Board of Trade (1) what action he has now taken to negotiate a trade agreement with China; what were the sterling amounts involved; and the types and quantities of goods mentioned in the agreement;

(2) whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that Japanese and West German exports to China increase during 1956 by 140 per cent. and 49 per cent., respectively, as compared with a 35 per cent. increase of United Kingdom exports; and what steps he proposes to take to ensure that British exporters are given every assistance to enter this important market.

Sir D. Eccles

I am aware of the figures which the hon. Member has mentioned. As regards our own trade with China, subject to the strategic control, my Department gives all possible help to exporters. In present circumstances, I see no advantage in attempting to make a trade agreement with China.

Mr. Lewis

As the President of the Board of Trade says that he is aware that all our competitors are increasing their trade, is it not about time that this Government did something? Is he not aware that, in addition to the 19 dams that have been mentioned, the Chinese are building 18 new towns, and have plenty of dollars with which to pay for the goods they want to import? Will he take the opportunity during the Easter Recess to go there and see for himself that the Americans, the Germans and the Russians are all doing enormous trade with China? And will he do something about it?

Sir D. Eccles

I think that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. The Germans, for instance, have no trade agreement, and the Japanese have only an unofficial one. It is no use trying to make a trade agreement when China can buy quite freely all the things that we can now offer China.

Mr. Osborne

Why is it considered strategically more dangerous to trade with China than with Russia?

Sir D. Eccles

That is a very different question.

Mr. Jay

Even if it is true, which is not my information, that United Kingdom-China trade is at present balanced, is it not desirable that it should increase on both sides?

Sir D. Eccles

Of course, I should like the trade to increase on both sides, but there are very large numbers of goods which the Chinese can import now, and are importing. For instance, I am told that the export of wool tops from this country to China is to increase this year.

Mr. Shinwell

Did not the right hon. Gentleman say in reply to a previous Question that he doubted whether the Chinese could pay for the goods from this country? Can he explain how it is that the Chinese are able to pay the Japanese and the Germans?

Sir D. Eccles

Their total trade is in balance today.

Mr. Stokes

Has the President of the Board of Trade thought this out? What does he think would happen if everybody had a favourable balanec of trade or insisted on it? There would not be any trade at all.