HC Deb 12 March 1979 vol 964 cc14-5
10. Mr. Goodlad

asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects next to meet his EEC counterparts.

Mr. John Smith

I regularly attend meetings of the EEC Foreign Affairs Council when trade matters are discussed. I expect to attend the Council on 2 and 3 April.

Mr. Goodlad

When the Secretary of State next meets his EEC colleagues, will he discuss with them the threat posed to the paper and board industry by the demands of the United States for concessions in the last round of the GATT negotiations? Is he aware of the serious threat that would be posed to employment if the market was flooded with low-priced competition from the United States in a period of slack domestic demand?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue which has concerned us during these discussions. I regard the tariff cuts proposed by the United States as excessive. I also regard as excessive the extent to which the Commission proposes that the Community should accede to those demands. That is something upon which the British Government will make their views very clear during the next meeting of the Council of Ministers.

Mr. Clemitson

How does my right hon. Friend justify the fact that, whereas about 40 per cent. of our total trade is now done with the EEC, less than 1 per cent. is done with India?

Mr. Smith

That is a very wide ranging question, and Mr. Speaker would call me to order if I attempted to answer it at any length. Our policy is to do as much trade as we can with as many countries as we can. We bear in mind that India is now the tenth largest industrial country in the world.

Mr. Arnold

Why are the Secretary of State and his colleagues in the EEC prepared to take a robust attitude to negotiations with the United States on the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad) earlier, but not in regard to textiles and the multi-fibre arrangement?

Mr. Smith

I do not see how it is possible for the hon. Gentleman even to mount a case that the Government have not been vigilant about the textile industry. This Government have done more to create circumstances in which the textile industry is protected from low-cost imports than any other Government have ever done. That industry now has wider protection than ever before in the history of the industry.

Mr. James Lamond

I agree with all that my right hon. Friend has said. Is he not aware that it is the impending agreement that is causing concern, and that the United States will gain considerably if they are successful in their proposals at the Tokyo round?

Mr. Smith

As I think my hon. Friend knows, these negotiations are not yet complete. I listened very carefully to the representations made by the industry. Where cuts in tariffs might assist the textile industry, these have to be balanced against cuts in our tariffs. It is a very fine calculation, but I assure my hon. Friend that I bear the interests of the industry very much in mind.