HC Deb 28 March 1984 vol 57 cc276-7
6. Mr. Sayeed

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has made to South Korea on the liberalisation of British imports into that country.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Paul Channon)

I took the opportunity when visiting Korea recently to press the Korean Government to liberalise their domestic market for imports, particularly for consumer goods. That includes the removal of quotas as well as tariff reductions.

Mr. Sayeed

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and ask whether he knows that Mr. George McWatters, the chairman of Avery the wine merchants in Bristol, is interested in selling whisky to South Korea? Can he tell me whether the South Koreans made a favourable response on the liberalisation of import controls on alcoholic beverages so as to meet consumer demand?

Mr. Channon

I raised this matter with the Korean Government and pointed out that this was a very important British interest. I hope that we shall make progress on this issue. The Korean Minister of Commerce is corning here next month and I shall make sure that my hon. Friend's points are drawn to his attention.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Minister not realise how important this question is, not just for whisky, but for imports generally? Does he know, for instance, that South Korea has taken the bulk of the British cutlery industry, which was centred on Sheffield, and that imports coming to Britain now, which can be seen on practically every table, bear the mark "Sheffield plated"? That is printed on the cutlery before it comes to Britain, and it is only plated here. We now have about 4 per cent. of the cutlery industry that we had hitherto, and Korea is one of the worst offenders in this respect.

Mr. Channon

If the hon. Gentleman has evidence of counterfeiting, I shall be glad to take that up. On the general level of imports from Korea, it must suit British industry and the House if we increase our exports to Korea as Korea increases its exports to us. The House will be pleased to know that exports to Korea have virtually trebled in the past three years.

Mr. Gould

Is not the real problem of our trade with South Korea exactly the same problem that arises in our trade with so many other countries, namely, that our exports of manufactures remain static, while there has been an enormous increase in imports? Is the Minister aware that our trade deficit in manufactures with South Korea rose by almost 100 per cent. to £270 million last year? What will he do about that, other than making laughable statements about improvements in our competitiveness since 1979?

Mr. Channon

What I find absolutely astonishing about that question is that today of all days hon. Members should criticise the trade figures when a surplus of £800 million was announced yesterday. I should have thought that hon. Members would be cheering and congratulating us on that, rather than complaining as usual.