HC Deb 16 March 1981 vol 1 cc6-7
6. Mr. Michael Morris

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what progress is being made in reducing the imbalance of trade between Japan and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Biffen

The imbalance of trade between Japan and the United Kingdom continues to widen and is a matter for serious concern. The European Community as a whole has a large and growing deficit in its trade with Japan. The Government fully support the course of action recently agreed by the Foreign Affairs Council to reduce that imbalance.

Mr. Morris

In view of the widening imbalance, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that two bearing companies in Northampton—namely, Ransome Hoffmann Pollard and British Timken—are due, respectively, to close and to shed 300 jobs? Does he accept that there are two reasons for the closure and the loss of 300 jobs—first, the downturn in the motor industry and, secondly, and more importantly, the unfair trading practices of the Japanese? When will my right hon. Friend say that these trading practices are unacceptable and that the United Kingdom, alongside the EEC, will do something about them?

Mr. Biffen

That will be when the evidence is such as to convince the anti-dumping unit, and through that unit the agencies within the EEC that are sovereign in these matters.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

In technology Japan appears to be passing through a phase of superiority in comparison with Western Europe, including the United Kingdom. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that exports to Japan from this country and Japanese imports must be considered seriously by the Government? Is he aware that while the Japanese are imposing restrictive practices on the United Kingdom's imports it seems that we are prepared to open our doors to let in their goods, including their motor cars?

Mr. Biffen

We are always anxious to receive evidence from any quarter that will substantiate the hon. Gentleman's generalised comments. It ill-becomes the United Kingdom to initiate a trade restriction policy when 29 per cent. of our domestic product is represented by exports, whereas for Japan the figure is only 12 per cent.

Mr. Marlow

As we import from Japan two and a half times as many manufactures as we export to Japan, why do we not investigate those areas where Japanese imports are causing, on balance, harm to the British economy and keep them out, in the same way as the Italians do with Japanese cars?

Mr. Biffen

These matters are kept under constant review. It would be foolish for a country that, broadly speaking, has a direct concern in the promotion of open trade fortuitously to engage in trade restriction. If my hon. Friend can advance cogent and compelling arguments, we shall be happy to receive them.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Is not one of the reasons for the imbalance that Japan is well ahead in consumer electronics technology? Will the right hon. Gentleman consult his colleagues with a view to ensuring that British companies invest in advanced technology in this sector in Britain so that we do not have to import from Japan?

Mr. Biffen

It would be unwise for the United Kingdom Government to take a hostile attitude to Japanese investment in the United Kingdom. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting that, for example, the Nissan investment can be turned aside, let him say so. If he is inviting the Government to engage in a pick-and-choose operation, the consequences of such an operation would be extremely harmful.