HC Deb 22 May 1974 vol 874 cc368-9
12 . Sir D. Dodds-Parker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what information he has about the operation of the trade agreement made between the Government of India and the EEC.

Mr. Hattersley

This agreement came into effect on 1st April. The first meeting of the joint commission established under the agreement to ensure its proper functioning will be held in Brussels on 27th-28th May.

Sir D. Dodds-Parker

Will the Minister confirm that there has been a wide welcome in India for the agreement between the Government of India and the European Community? Will he use all his influence in future to help other Commonwealth countries to get equal benefits under the general Declaration of Intent?

Mr. Hattersley

I confirm what the hon. Member said at the beginning of his question. Two facts apply in connection with the interests of other Commonwealth countries. The first is that Ministers of this Government have been doing their best to promote the real interests of all Commonwealth countries by making the best of Protocol 22. Secondly, they have been reminding the Community that the Commonwealth exists in Asia as well as Africa, and that something must be done to ensure that Asian interests are also preserved.

Mr. Rippon

Is the Community not already committed under the Treaty of Accession not just to maintain but to improve and extend trade with the Asian Commonwealth?

Mr. Hattersley

That is so. In practice, however, it needed a great deal of work from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development and others to make sure that the interests of the Asian Commonwealth were properly respected and preserved.

Mr. Marten

On the question of trade agreements, has the Minister noticed that the pro-Europeans among my hon. Friends keep on saying today that a free trade area is not possible? Is the Minister aware that this is part of the propaganda campaign? Does it not just show that if these are the facts of life the Community must be a very inward-looking outfit?

Mr. Hattersley

I was careful to say in my answers that it would be rash to assume that one could automatically get a free trade area. From the answer the hon. Member should take the point that those hon. Members opposite and my hon. Friends who didactically announce that such a free trade area is possible are not certainly right. The position remains open, and any policy that is based on the assumption that such a free trade area could certainly be brought about is built on shifting sands.