HC Deb 21 May 1979 vol 967 cc672-3
2. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the latest estimate of the United Kingdom trade balance in relation to the other EEC countries; and if he will make a statement.

16. Mr. Moate

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he is satisfied with the current balance of trade in manufactured goods between the United Kingdom and the rest of the EEC.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade (Mr. Cecil Parkinson)

In 1978, the United Kingdom had a visible trade deficit of £2,247 million with the rest of the Community. A large part of our trade is in manufactured goods and we are not satisfied with the current balance of trade. If there is to be this desired improvement, our manufacturers and other exporters must take advantage of the market opportunities which exist, both in the United Kingdom and abroad, and the Government's policies will be aimed at providing the economic climate which encourages this.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister confirm that, for the undoubted privilege of having a massive trade deficit, the British people now have to pay a subscription of more than £1,000 million this year in order to be a member of this catastrophic club? Also, will he acknowledge that, while we mop up their butter surpluses and wine lakes, other EEC member States are taking less coal from us than they did at the time of the referendum? Will he also accept that that is why the Labour Party manifesto for the direct elections clearly states that, if there is no change shortly, the British people should have the chance to get out of the club?

Mr. Parkinson

Most of that question should have been directed to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. All I would say about the part appropriate for me to answer is that the key to our success in the EEC and other markets is increased productivity and efficiency. What the hon. Member and his hon. Friends are offering was rejected by the electorate only a few days ago.

Mr. Moate

Does my hon. Friend agree that the trading deficit in manufactured goods with the original Six is far worse than that with the rest of the world? Will he confirm that, at the very least, the very bad figures should be a strong weapon in the hands of the new British Government to ensure that our budget contribution is substantially reduced?

Mr. Parkinson

My hon. Friend is right in saying that the figures are unsatisfactory and must be improved. But it is a fact that our exports to the EEC are expanding faster than they are to any other part of the developed world. They have increased in cash terms from £4,106 million on entry to £14,104 million in 1978.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not a matter of the gravest concern that we have such a large and continuing trade deficit with France and West Germany? Is it not true that many British jobs will be at stake unless the Government are willing to take the necessary measures to protect home industry?

Mr. Parkinson

I draw a different conclusion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will encourage his trade union friends to realise that the EEC is the biggest and one of the fastest expanding markets in the world, and that it offers a tremendous opportunity to Britain. It is up to us to take advantage of it.

Mr. Jay

Does the hon. Member really think that £2 billion deficit fulfils the hopes and promises that were held out to us before we joined the EEC?

Mr. Parkinson

The deficit owes much to our lack of competitiveness and our low productivity. In case the right hon. Gentleman did not hear me earlier, I repeat that our exports to the EEC increased to £14,104 million last year and that the EEC is our biggest market.

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