HC Deb 16 May 1990 vol 172 cc879-81
11. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent representations he has received regarding the United Kingdom's balance of trade with Japan.

Mr. Redwood

The Department of Trade and Industry receives a number of representations from time to time on the matter. My hon. Friend may like to know that in the most recent year our exports to Japan have risen by 30 per cent. and imports by only 9 per cent. We hope that that welcome improvement in trend will continue.

Mrs. Gorman

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. I know that he understands the free market and how it works. Does he agree that our constant worry about the balance of trade deficit with countries such as Japan is about as important as worrying about the balance of trade between Birmingham and Edinburgh, or between Bradford and Bruges? When British people voluntarily buy goods that they want, what they part with is money—which the foreigners cannot eat or stuff into their futons, and which is subsequently reinvested in Britain. Does he agree that what we should worry about is abolishing obstacles to free trade both here and abroad?

Mr. Redwood

In her usual colourful way, my hon. Friend has made a good economic point. She is right that the party to which she and I belong does not wish to see obstacles placed in the way of people buying the things that they wish to buy. I wish that we could say the same of the Labour party, which wants credit controls to stop people buying Japanese videos, televisions and similar products. Where my hon. Friend and I believe that it is important to make strong representations to our trading partners is if they fall short of the high standards of free trade that we all wish to see worldwide. There are occasions when it is necessary to make strong representations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just returned from a strenuous trip to Japan, where he has been making some of the points that British business wanted us to make. I should add that Japanese trade is much smoother in that respect than trade with some other countries.

Dr. Kim Howells

Does the Minister consider, in the light of his previous answer, that an additional reason for our comparatively low sales of cars and other goods to Japan may be that the Government have done their best to gut innovative research and development in this country, and that we are simply not keeping up with trends and developments in many important areas?

Mr. Redwood

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is badly informed. The Japanese are having to set up car plants in this country because they also wish to set up design centres here, which will draw heavily upon the skills of British designers and engineers for the next generation of Japanese cars for the European market, with a strong skill input from people in this country. He also ignores the point of my reply to the previous question— that our export performance with Japan is improving because customers recognise that we offer goods of quality with substantial skill and design content and they are buying more of our goods day by day.

Mr. Dunn

Surely the truth of the matter is that we do not enjoy free and fair trade with the empire of Japan. Is not it a fact that Japanese goods find it easy to gain access to markets in this country whereas our exports find it immensely difficulty to gain access to Japanese markets? Should not we tell the Japanese Government that unless they mend their ways in terms of economic warfare we shall declare war?

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend should note that the average tariff on industrial products imported into Japan is substantially lower than that on industrial products imported into the European Community. There have been some isolated sectoral problems with Japan. We are pleased with the progress made, for example, with whisky as exports are growing rapidly as a result of changes made by the Japanese Government. There are problems in the footwear and leather sector, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has drawn to the attention of our Japanese opposite numbers. The House should recognise that Japan is not a bad trading partner, that we are pleased with the way trade is developing, we give a warm welcome to Japanese investors here, and it would be wrong to jeopardise that position with ill-chosen words.

Dr. Moonie

Will the Minister tell the House exactly what are the figures for the balance of our trade with Japan over the past year?

Mr. Redwood

The balance of trade with Japan in 1989 was minus £4.8 billion.