HC Deb 20 May 1958 vol 588 cc1096-100
39. Mr. Braine

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is yet in a position to make a decision in regard to the New Zealand Government's request for action to be taken under the Anti-Dumping Act.

44. Mr. Hurd

asked the President of the Board of Trade to what extent his inquiries into the complaint made by New Zealand and the English Milk Marketing Board on the dumping of foreign butter here have revealed the existence of grounds for action under the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act, 1957.

55. Mr. Jay

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will now state what action the Government proposes to take to meet complaints about dumping of butter in the United Kingdom.

56. Sir F. Medlicott

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the discussions with the Government of New Zealand concerning butter imports into the United Kingdom, indicating whether an agreement has been arrived at or is imminent.

59. Mr. Lipton

asked the President of of the Board of Trade what agreement has been made with the New Zealand Government about butter imports.

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

The consideration of the applications made under the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act, 1957 so far as they relate to Finland, Sweden and the Irish Republic has been completed. Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that exports of butter by these three countries have been promoted by subsidies. We are still considering the application relating to Argentina.

The Government have decided that the subsidised imports have caused material injury to the New Zealand dairy industry. We have not found any such material injury to the dairy industry in this country.

The Government consider it is in the national interest to take action on the New Zealand application. They have therefore asked the Governments of Sweden and Finland, which are traditional suppliers of butter, either to eliminate the practices complained of, or to keep their exports within agreed limits which would begin to operate as from today. If they are unwilling to take either course the Government will impose countervailing duties.

As regards the Republic of Ireland, also a traditional supplier of butter, we have requested the Government in accordance with the provisions of the Trade Agreement of 1938 to enter into consultations on a similar basis.

I will make a further statement to the House as soon as we know what the three Governments concerned proposed to do.

Since the New Zealand application was made, imports of butter from Poland have increased sharply. It has therefore been decided independently of the action to be taken in the case of Finland, Sweden and the Irish Republic, that imports of Polish butter should also be limited. In addition the open licence for imports of butter from Eastern Europe generally is being withdrawn.

We estimate that over the course of a year our supplies of butter from the countries I have mentioned will be reduced by an amount equal to some 10 per cent. of our total supplies in 1957, that is by about 40,000 tons. A reduction of this order will strengthen the market and be of substantial assistance to New Zealand.

Mr. Braine

Will my right hon. Friend explain why, with the anti-dumping legislation on the Statute Book, it was really necessary for no action to be taken until New Zealand made this complaint? Does not this seem a little odd in view of the natural ties between our two countries and the fact that we have always had a continuous and regular supply of good quality butter from New Zealand? Do not family loyalties count for anything these days?

Sir D. Eccles

That is the manner in which the Act is operated, and I explained it to the New Zealanders a year or two ago.

Mr. Jay

As the President admits that New Zealand has been injured, will he say whether the British Government offered New Zealand a direct British Government contract for the purchase of this butter at a reasonable price?

Sir D. Eccles

No, Sir.

Mr. Hurd

While welcoming the Government's decision to take prompt action now, may I ask my right hon. Friend if he will keep in mind the very general approval that there would be for using the Act, which this House passed last year, to ensure that our good friends the New Zealanders, our own farmers, and the Danes, who are very good customers of ours, do get a fair run in the British market? Will he do that if these quota arrangements do not prove satisfactory?

Sir D. Eccles

Yes, Sir; I will. We have given these Governments a month in which to make up their minds. If they do not wish to accept the quota limits we will put on the duties.

Mr. H. Morrison

Can the right hon. Gentleman give some indication of how far this decision will result in a material betterment of our butter purchases from New Zealand and how far it will meet the requirements and wishes of the Governmen of New Zealand? Can he say why we should not make a direct bulk purchase agreement with Now Zealand, which is an important and very loyal part of the Commonwealth, so that that country will know where it is and we shall know where we are, too.

Sir D. Eccles

The reply to the first point is that there is no doubt that the price of butter will be strengthened. It is hard to say by how much. It is difficult to say what will happen, because competition with margarine is very keen. In recent weeks, butter, at its low price, has been gaining substantially on margarine in the market. The price will be strengthened. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is that?"] A stronger price means a higher price. We do not know what will happen. On the second point which the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) asked me, if we were to make a bulk contract we should either have to put all imports under control, when the whole trade would become controlled by the Government, or we should have to be prepared to put upon the Exchequer any loss made on the New Zealand contract. Neither of those courses appears to be so efficacious as reducing the supplies of subsidised butter, as we are doing.

Mr. Turton

Will not my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to reconsider the procedures in regard to the dumping of imports on the British market? During the weekend my right hon. Friend took very speedy action against the threat of Belgian imports of butter, but in the case of these other countries there has already been a long delay and considerable damage to New Zealand trade.

Sir D. Eccles

Belgium never had sent us butter and therefore it was a very simple operation to withdraw the open general licence. In the case of traditional suppliers we are bound, by the Act, to determine whether or not the commodity is subsidised and whether it is doing material damage. We proceeded with this inquiry as quickly as we could.

Mr. Bottomley

Will the President of the Board of Trade take the opportunity to tell the Prime Minister that it does not encourage good Commonwealth relationships to keep the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand here for five weeks or more and then to send him home dissatisfied?

Sir D. Eccles

The Deputy Prime Minister, who has been kept in touch with all these talks, knows the extreme difficulty we have had in reaching a decision so soon.

Mr. Jay

Would New Zealand have welcomed a bulk-purchase contract with this country?

Sir D. Eccles

No, because they know we were not prepared to make it.