HC Deb 09 April 1973 vol 854 cc923-6
19. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement following his recent visit to China.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Walker)

I was accompanied on this visit by my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping. The exhibition was the largest that has ever been staged by a foreign country in Peking. More than 350 firms displayed a wide range of goods particularly reflecting modern British technology. The exhibition has proved to be a major success. It was opened by the Chinese Minister for Foreign Trade and the exhibitors were paid the honour of a two-hour visit by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chou En-lai. I am sure that over the years ahead many orders will be placed with British industry as a direct result of the impact made by this exhibition. I would particularly like to express my gratitude to Sir John Keswick, president of the exhibition, and to all those who contributed to its organisation.

I had a series of discussions with Chinese Ministers including a two-hour meeting with Mr. Chou En-lai. The meeting was cordial and the Chinese Prime Minister expressed the hope that trade and cultural relationships between our two countries would be increased. I had detailed discussions with the Chinese Minister for Foreign Trade and he accepted my proposal that our officials should draw up a programme for an exchange of trade missions between Britain and China over the next two years. He expressed his view that there would be an increase in British trade with China. I had further discussions with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I also made visits to Hangchow and Shanghai where I visited a number of major Chinese industrial concerns and had discussions with those officials responsible for foreign trade in these areas. I believe that we can now look for a period of sustained growth in our trading relationships with China.

Mr. Adley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all those in this country who are actively concerned with exports are very much encouraged by his personal involvement and commitment to this particular growth area of our overseas trade? May I ask him one specific question? Could he give an assurance with regard to exports of aerospace equipment to China that these will not be hampered in any way by the Americans or others trying to take advantage of previous commitments under which exports of large amounts of equipment could be categorised as strategic?

Mr. Walker

I believe that there is no danger of this particularly as at the moment the Americans are trying to negotiate large aircraft orders in Peking.

Mr. Benn

May I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the success of his mission and pursue one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley)? Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there are no restrictions on trade with China as there manifestly were 18 months ago—they were raised with me when I was in Peking—which would make it difficult for us to trade because of some strategic limitations? Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman have in mind any more formal arrangements with the Chinese, similar to those we have with the Soviet Union and many Eastern European countries?

Mr. Walker

On the latter question, I think there is advantage in trying to seek a constant relationship. There was no request by either the Chinese or ourselves for a more formal establishment of a commission. Certainly, if I thought that this would in any way improve trading relationships I would not hesitate to suggest such a formal relationship. The Chinese Foreign Minister will be visiting London, I hope, in the near future, and I think there will be a rapid exchange at both the ministerial and business levels. As for strategic limitations, certainly in matters of trade upon which I had discussions with the Chinese, and a whole range of industries, I do not see any particular problem of a strategic nature.

Mr. Wilkinson

May I also congratulate by right hon. Friend on his visit and ask whether there were any formal discussions about China's declaration of intent to purchase Concorde and whether discussions were held on the subject of routes for supersonic airliners between our two countries?

Mr. Walker

There were no discussions on routes, but on the subject of Concorde those remarks which were made struck me as being optimistic. During my visit I was assured that China had in no way changed her attitude to the aircraft since she signed the preliminary purchasing agreement last summer.

Mr. Dalyell

In what fields of trade were commissions contemplated? While welcoming the impact of the exhibition, may I ask whether a word could be put in for an exchange on agricultural technology?

Mr. Walker

Yes, I think that in the whole sphere of agriculture China is very interested in ways of fast developing her agriculture and this would be one of the spheres in which I would suggest an exchange. Other spheres of immense importance including mining engineering equipment. I would hope that some new firms being established in this country for offshore oil drilling off Britain will realise that there will be considerable potentiality off China's coast in the years ahead and that there could well be further opportunities there.

Sir R. Cary

In view of what my right hon. Friend said about Concorde, can we accept that the orders for the three are firm?

Mr. Walker

One can never suggest, till an actual order is completed and paid for, that any order is a firm order, but certainly everything during the visit paid by myself and my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace tended to show that the Chinese were very interested in the Concorde aircraft and in no way had changed their view since they signed the original agreement.

Mr. Mason

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what orders were achieved during the exhibition? Secondly, what are the trade prospects and in what fields as a result of the exhibition? Thirdly, is he seriously telling the House that he took the Minister for Aerospace along with him and they had no discussion about the establishment of a direct route from Heathrow to Peking involving BOAC and the Chinese Republic airlines?

Mr. Walker

On the latter point, there were certainly some conversations on the direct route. I am sorry, I misunderstood the question. There were discussions and these are continuing at the present time, but no conclusion was reached. As for actual orders received during the exhibition, I think the right hon. Gentleman will know from his experience of visiting China that this is not the sort of place where orders are immediately placed at the stands of the exhibition but that what happens is that those with products are invited to have talks with the various purchasing commissions. What resulted during the exhibition was that a large number of British firms were invited to enter negotiations and talks with the various purchasing commissions, and I have no doubt at all that a great deal of business will arise in the years ahead as a result.