HC Deb 27 November 1991 vol 199 cc899-900
6. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on progress in lowering trade and tariff barriers; and what progress is being made in the GATT negotiations.

Mr. Lilley

We believe that a successful conclusion of the GATT Uruguay round before the end of the year is vital for Britain, essential for the world economy and still within our grasp.

Mrs. Gorman

I thank my right hon. Friend for his interesting reply. Could not the European Community learn something from north America, where a tariff-free trade area, consisting of Canada and the United States and soon to be joined by Mexico, has been created? That has been achieved without the need for massive bureaucracy or supranational government or any loss of sovereignty. Does my right hon. Friend agree that free markets need only a system of laws and not all that bureaucracy?

Mr. Lilley

My hon. Friend makes a telling case. It is indeed a fact that the greatest prize in Europe is the completion of the single market. The Government are single-minded about the single market. It is a British idea, introduced by a British Commissioner and it will be brought to a conclusion under a British presidency. We believe that that is of supreme importance to Europe and we want to extend the benefits wider through agreements with the European Free Trade Association.

Mr. James Lamond

Although both the successful conclusion of the GATT negotiations and the temporary extension of the multi-fibre arrangement are welcome, can the Secretary of State assure us that there will be some mechanism to control the expansion of imports of textiles and footwear into this country after the M FA finishes? Will he bear in mind the fact that many eastern European countries are looking to this country as a possible dumping ground and they produce their goods with wages of about 20p an hour?

Mr. Lilley

The hon. Gentleman, who follows these matters closely, will know that an outline agreement affecting textiles is on the table which, I hope, given the completion of the whole GATT round, will come into force. That will mean that the gradual integration of textiles into the usual GATT arrangements over 10 years will be accompanied and, in most cases, preceded by a strengthening of the rules and discipline of GATT which, among other things, apply to surges of imports, dumping and so on. I hope that that is a reassurance. It has been taken as a reassurance by the British textile industry.

Mr. Grylls

Will my right hon. Friend use his considerable influence to ensure that the problems outstanding on the GATT negotiations are discussed at the Maastricht summit? Many people rightly think that they are far more important than many of the items currently on the agenda which are causing problems. Let us get down to tackling practical matters such as getting those trade negotiations tied up. I hope that my right hon. Friend uses his influence.

Mr. Lilley

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise the great importance that we attach to a successful GATT round. There is nothing more important for the world economy. At the G7 Heads of Government meeting, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister obtained the personal commitment of the round before the end of the year and it was partly as a result of that that the valuable meeting took place between President Bush and Mr. Lubbers, on behalf of the Community, which I hope has moved matters towards a conclusion. Whether there will be enough time at the Maastricht summit to discuss those matters as well remains to be seen.

Mr. Ron Brown

If the Secretary of State believes that he can get rid of tariffs, why does he support the Common Market, now known as the European Community—that big business club which is essentially a conspiracy against the working class and is certainly not wholeheartedly supported on this side of the House? Will he explain his philosophy? If he really accepts that, somehow or other, the Common Market is a panacea and if the British people have no say about whether we should continue our membership of that club, which does not have the interests of the common people at heart, how can it be justified?

Mr. Lilley

The hon. Gentleman goes on about conspiracies against the working class, but I gather that in his constituency the working class conspired against him.

We have abolished tariffs within the single market and the level of tariffs outside the Community is on average, 4 or 5 per cent.—much lower than it used to be. We are determined to resist calls for a fortress Europe, which would be damaging to world trade. One reason why we are determined not to have a Labour Government is that they might tip the balance in the Community towards a fortress Europe and against the forces of free trade which we have successfully orchestrated so far.