HC Deb 04 June 1957 vol 571 cc1051-3
7. Mr. Wade

asked the President of the Board of Trade what representations he has made or proposes to make to the Government of the United States of America on the subject of the tariff-quota for the current year on wool cloth imported from the United Kingdom by the United States of America.

11. Mr. Jay

asked the President of the Board of Trade what representations the Government has made to the United States Government against the imposition of higher import tariffs on imports of United Kingdom woollen manufactures into the United States of America.

12. Mr. Hirst

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in the interests of the wool industry in Great Britain, he will make representations to the Government of the United States of America to reconsider the tariff-quota for the current year on wool cloth.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Derek Walker-Smith)

Her Majesty's Government have made repeated representations to the United States Government in the past year about the tariff-quota system itself and about the size of the quota. Unfortunately these representations have been of no avail. My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the President of the Board of Trade saw the United States Ambassador last Friday and handed to him a further memorandum, the text of which I will circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Wade

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that this tariff-quota is a peculiarly objectionable form of import restriction as it involves a sudden rise in duty from 25 per cent. to 45 per cent. at an uncertain date, and that that plays havoc with our export trade? Will he continue his representations not only because of the damage that is being done to the industry of the West Riding of Yorkshire but also because this policy is surely inconsistent with that which America has often urged upon other countries, namely, the encouragement of freer international trade?

Mr. Walker-Smith

When the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity of studying the text, which will be in the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will see that the general point to which he refers is included in that representation, and also a specific request for the reconsideration of the size of the quota in the current year.

Mr. Jay

Is this not an exceptionally unfortunate decision by the United States Government which will be much regretted by the best friends of America in this country, and is the Minister aware that if he makes the strongest possible representation he will, I think, have the support of the whole House?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I am indeed hopeful that the representations which we have made to the United States will lead to a reconsideration of the quota for this year and of the decision which has been made.

Mr. Hirst

While the wool interests in the West Riding of Yorkshire, will be grateful for the representations made, particularly last weekend, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to bear in mind the need to ensure that reasonable publicity is given to the situation in the United States, because is it not a fact that their case is based to a great extent on the home trade having fallen very considerably, whereas in fact our trade over the last ten years has increased by 30 million yards and American output has fallen by 250 million yards? Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it is essential to ensure propaganda in the United States as well as here?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I should not like to he tied to specific figures without notice. It is obviously a matter of interest to us that there should be the widest possible understanding of our point of view in the United States.

Wing Commander Bullus

Is it not further evidence of the unfair trading methods of the Americans, and is it not high time that we gave notice to quit the G.A.T.T. agreement and developed our own Empire trade?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I do not think that any such generalisation logically or properly follows from these particular circumstances.

Mr. Jay

By reconsideration does the Minister mean reviewing the decision already made relating to 1957?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Yes. The United States Government has been asked to reconsider its decision for the quota for the current year—that is to say, 1957.

Following is the text of the memorandum: Her Majesty's Government have noted with great regret the decision to place further restrictions upon imports of wool fabrics into the United States by means of a tariff quota for 1957 of only 14 million lb. The considered views of Her Majesty's Government on this subject were conveyed to the State Department in an Aide Memoire dated 18th March, 1957, and a copy of it was handed to the Secretary of State at the Bermuda Conference. The President of the Board of Trade mentioned this subject to the American Ambassador on 30th April and the Permanent Secretary of the Board has also spoken to the Economic Minister at the American Embassy. The United States Government will thus be fully aware of the strength of Her Majesty's Government's feeling on this question. This action is bound to arouse very great disappointment here, at a time when the outlook for United Kingdom trade with the United States seemed so much more promising. It is most unwelcome, not only because it will undoubtedly cause unnecessary confusion, uncertainty and dislocation to the United Kingdom wool textile industry, but also because it will have a psychological effect out of all proportion to the damage which it is supposed to remedy. The United States Government has stated that the extra-quota duty is to be 45 per cent. ad valorem in addition to a specific duty; there are very few countries indeed which levy such high duties on these wool textiles. Moreover, to the extent that such high duties are intended to be prohibitive in effect, there seems to be little to choose between this system and a straight import quota imposed for protective purposes. In view of the need for the United Kingdom to earn dollars to pay for the very large purchases it makes in the United States. Her Majesty's Government had expected that the United States Government would establish a quota more in line with the actual import performance recorded in 1956. This would have meant an increase in the quota from 5 per cent, to about 6½ per cent. of the United States domestic production. It is a matter of great regret to Her Majesty's Government that the United States Government has not conceded the extra 1½ per cent. An increase of that order, so small in relation to the United States domestic industry, would have gone some way to correct the ill effects caused to the United Kingdom industry by the tariff quota system. Her Majesty's Government hope the United States Government may find it possible to reconsider its decision in the sense indicated above.