HC Deb 02 December 1992 vol 215 cc262-3
14. Mr. Faber

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what representations he has made to the United States Government concerning section 337 of the US Tariff Act.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs (Mr. Neil Hamilton)

Strong representations against this discriminatory legislation have been made to the United States Government on a number of occasions by the British Government and by the European Commission.

Mr. Faber

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply and for the news that the European Commission is also now involved. He will be aware of the company in my constituency, Bath Scientific Limited, of Melksham, which has traded successfully in the United States for the past six years and which now finds itself unexpectedly subject to extremely expensive litigation, because of this legislation, brought against it by a competitor. Will my hon. Friend continue to press the American Government on this issue and do what he can for my constituents?

Mr. Hamilton

My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber) has made strenuous representations on behalf of Bath Scientific, based at Melksham in his constituency. I can confirm that the British Government will continue to make the strongest representations to the United States Government to ensure that section 337 of the US Tariff Act is repealed. The United States Government have said that they will act as soon as the Uruguay round is completed. That is yet another reason for ensuring that the current GATT negotiations are completed successfully and as quickly as possible.

Mr. Rooney

Does the Minister accept that the United States, while in one arena preaching free trade, is in many ways the most protectionist economy in the world? Will he particularly note the 36 per cent. tariff on British textile goods that still destroys jobs in this country and take that into account when we reach the last stages of the Uruguay round?

Mr. Hamilton

It is a bit rich of Opposition Members, who are great supporters of import controls and protectionism, to attempt to castigate the United States for its protectionist policy. The hon. Member knows that our Government, of all Governments in the European Community, have been the strongest supporter of GATT, and we will make every possible opportunity available to advocate the cause of British industry and free trade.

Mr. Butcher

Does my hon. Friend recall that something like half of the total foreign earnings of the top 20 British manufacturers come from the North American market? At a time when some elements in Europe are becoming protectionist or anti-American, would it not be wise to consider new initiatives building on our right hon. Friend's undoubted success in GATT to reduce tariffs between the North American free trade area and the European Community, which would have immense benefit for the economies of the eastern seaboard of North America and a certain large island off the western coast of Europe?

Mr. Hamilton

Important as we know the European Community to be, my hon. Friend is right to remind us of the importance of our trade across the Atlantic. I can assure my hon. Friend that, under my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, we have not lost sight of this important element in Britain's foreign earnings.