HC Deb 22 November 1976 vol 919 cc1863-6
12. Mr. Jopling

asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether he will take antidumping action against imports of goods when it can be shown the landed cost of the finished article in the United Kingdom is less than the cost at which British producers can buy the raw materials required to make them.

Mr. Meacher

No, Sir. While the relationship of these costs raises a presumption of dumping, it is not evidence which would satisfy the requirements of our legislation and the GATT Code, which are based on the relationship of export and domestic prices in the country of origin.

Mr. Jopling

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to the incorrect figure in what I said on 18th October about shoe imports from COMECON countries. How can the Government possibly justify a policy which is leading to factory closures and redundancies in the shoe industry caused entirely by shoes coming in from abroad at a price below the cost of the materials in this country?

Mr. Meacher

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman now recognises that the figure he gave in his earlier question was wildly wrong. The figure he quoted was only just over one-third of the correct figure. We have taken action with regard to shoes from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania. Men's shoes are retaining their level below the 1974 level of trade, and women's and children's shoes below the 1975 level. That is a substantial advance. We cannot take action in the way the hon. Gentleman suggests, because many foreign producers may well have access to cheaper indigenous raw materials, cheaper labour, cheaper hydroelectric power or whatever else than is available to United Kingdom manufacturers.

Mrs. Castle

Is it not extraordinarily difficult to obtain evidence of internal pricing in countries such as Japan, as the European bearings industry found in preparing its recent anti-dumping case, with which it has successfully impressed the Commission? Is not the real answer for the Government and the Commission to get much tougher generally over imports from Japan and other low-cost countries?

Mr. Meacher

My right hon. Friend has a later Question on the Order Paper about imports of tapered roller bearings and ball bearings. She is right to say that there were difficulties in obtaining up-to-date information from Japan on price relativities and discounts, but these have been obtained. As for taking firmer action against Japan, Ministers not only in Britain but in other countries in the West expressed their very strong concern during the recent visit of the Keidanren delegation to Britain and elsewhere in Europe about Japan's exporting policy and the need substantially to increase its purchases from the West. We are looking for urgent action on that front in the near future.

Mr. Shersby

Will the Minister answer "Yes" or "No" to the question whether he has taken action to prevent the importation into this country of shoes at less than the cost at which manufacturers in this country can produce them? In particular, will he deal with the question of sandals?

Mr. Meacher

I have already answered that question, but obviously the hon. Gentleman was not listening. I made clear that that was not a basis for operating under the 1969 Act. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read the newspapers, where he will see that we have accepted for full investigation the question of men's leather sandals from Czechoslovakia.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Has my hon. Friend had recent evidence of the disastrous amount of imports of ready-made clothing, resulting in the closure of factories in the North-East of England as well as elsewhere? Is he prepared to take fresh action in that regard?

Mr. Meacher

The case put to us by the Clothing Manufacturers' Federation was accepted for full investigation in September. I hope that we shall be able to conclude the investigation within a month or two.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Is the Minister aware that if something is not done soon to prevent the flood of low-cost imports of shoes and textiles there will be neither a shoe factory nor a textile factory left in this country within 10 years? Will he therefore seek to renegotiate the burden of proof, so that those seeking to bring in low-cost materials must prove that they are not dumped, rather than that we should have to take up to a year to prove that they are?

Mr. Meacher

This Government have taken more action to obtain price and volume undertakings, and more action on the anti-dumping front, than any pre- vious Government, particularly in respect of textiles and footwear. Through the EEC we have negotiated no fewer than 13 bilateral restraint agreements with all the low-cost producers of textiles. As for the onus of proof being put on importers, it was announced in the Press on Friday—but the hon. Lady obviously missed the announcement—that we are considering what further information can be obtained and made available about the domestic price in the country of origin of goods that are being shipped to this country. We are examining this question very carefully with Customs and Excise. I hope that we shall be able to take action very soon.