HC Deb 05 May 1975 vol 891 cc1010-2
21. Mr. Lane

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what recent contacts he has had with COMECON countries for trade purposes; and with what results.

Mr. Deakins

I and my Department have regular and continuing contacts on trade matters with all the COMECON countries. Eastern Europe including the USSR provides a growing market. Our exports there last year increased by 33 per cent. compared with 1973.

Mr. Lane

As the Secretary of State was reported as saying that, in the unlikely event of Britain leaving the Common Market he looked forward to negotiating new trading arrangements with COMECON, is there some specific undertaking to this effect? If there is not, how can his right hon. Friend possibly think that more trade with COMECON could be any substitute for less trade with the EEC?

Mr. Deakins

I do not think that my right hon. Friend or I intend that less trade with the EEC should be the outcome of the referendum, whichever way it goes. Certainly British industrialists will be wanting to sell their goods in all parts of the world—not just in the Common Market, not even just in COMECON. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, I hope that, to get the country out of the severe balance of payments problem which we face, our industrialists who have not previously considered exporting will look carefully at all parts of the world to decide which parts of the market can offer the best potential for increasing their exports.

Mrs. Colquhoun

Is my hon. Friend not aware that British footwear workers are increasingly on three-and-a-half and four-day working weeks, and that they are eagerly awaiting a Government statement on import quotas for COMECON countries? Can he say when that statement can be expected?

Mr. Deakins

I cannot say exactly when, but negotiations have been going on for some time with the countries concerned as a continuation of an antidumping application made a year or two ago. As a result of our preliminary negotiations with those countries, we have gone back to them to try to get rather more concessions, and I am hopeful of the outcome. As soon as we have reached finality with the three countries concerned, we shall report to the House what has been achieved. I do not think that my hon. Friend will be at all dissatisfied.

Mr. Shersby

In view of the Minister's previous answer, does he agree that British manufacturers are being encouraged to export woollen textile machinery to the Soviet Union for the modernisation and reconstruction of the Soviet textile industry? Is he satisfied that this action, which is taking place at low interest rates, protected against inflation, will not result in further competition for our own industry?

Mr. Deakins

That may well be the outcome, but I invite the hon. Member to think seriously about the implications of what lie has said, because we are exporting machinery all over the world to build up nascent and small industries that eventually may prove to be the competitors of some of our traditional industries. But what is the alternative? Not to export machinery? In that case our competitors will certainly do so. We believe in multilateral trade, and we have to export what we are best able to export. If, for some of our industries, there are any consequent problems in a year or two, or in 10 years, we must take appropriate measures to ensure that they are not harmed.