HC Deb 25 February 1987 vol 111 cc264-5
11. Mr. Kirkwood

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what is his Department's policy towards counter trade agreements with developing nations.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Alan Clark)

The Government's policy is to support the further development of an open cash-based multilateral trading system. However, counter trade is a requirement in certain markets and I hope that British exporters will consider carefully the commercial opportunities that exist.

Mr. Kirkwood

Does the Minister accept that some Third world countries are obliged to resort to counter trade because they are starved of hard currency? What steps will the Government take against the failure of the Baker proposals, the burgeoning problems of international debt and the lack of financial liquidity in the Third world to promote the open, multilateral cash-based system that he seeks to achieve?

Mr. Clark

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that those offers are most prevalent in Third world, developing countries that are suffering from currency difficulties. My Department offers advice, information and general guidance. We publish an annual guide to counter trade and we also have a list of specialist counter traders to whom the inquirer can refer for further information.

Mr. Robin Cook

Can the Minister confirm that the developing countries are among the few nations with which we have a healthy trade surplus? Will he also confirm that this month's figures show that our deficit with the European Community trebled last year and that our deficit with Japan increased by one fifth? Does his Department have any policy to counter our ballooning trade gap, other than praying that the Prime Minister calls a general election as soon as possible?

Mr. Clark

An election fever-type general question does not sit happily with a detailed, thoughtful, constructive question about counter trade. Were it possible for us to correct some of the imbalances in our internal trade with the European Community by recourse to counter trade, no one would be happier than me.

Mr. Gow

Will my hon. Friend reaffirm the Government's commitment to a policy of free trade? What journeys does my hon. Friend have it in mind to make in these coming months to promote the Government's excellent trade record and enhance his own high reputation?

Mr. Clark

Certainly, on whatever journeys I make, I am always keen to explore all trading opportunities, especially those in the area of counter trade. That is a growing sector and one in which, as the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said, the United Kingdom has a favourable balance.