HC Deb 17 February 1993 vol 219 cc307-8
5. Mr. Tredinnick

To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many trade missions abroad will be supported by Ministers in his Department in the foreseeable future; which countries they will visit; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Needham)

Ministerial participation is provisionally planned for at least 14 missions to 17 countries in the next year. It is likely that others will be arranged through the year.

Mr. Tredinnick

Given the spectacular success of the visit by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Saudi and Oman, when he secured 20,000 jobs—many in Labour-held constituencies—does my hon. Friend agree that the highest priority should be given to Minister-backed trade missions? Will he confirm that his highest priority is to get out and back British business abroad as well as at home?

Mr. Needham

Of course, it is the highest priority of Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry to get out and sell. It is also vital that those who go out and sell know how to do so and the markets to which they go. I would not advise Opposition Members to go on Cook's tours because when they have set out their stall, 18 million potential customers have invariably said no.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Minister agree that manufacturers of mining equipment, such as Oldham Batteries in my constituency, have regularly co-operated in trade missions, but that they want help from the Government to ensure that when they win orders they have the credits to fulfil them? They also need a home-based mining industry to support their export drives.

Mr. Needham

That is why, in the autumn statement, we increased Export Credits Guarantee Department cover by £700 million and, during last year, reduced the premium rate. That is also why we are continuing to review the cover available to support our capital goods industries, to achieve our objective of doubling sales over the next five years.

Mr. Thomason

Will my hon. Friend arrange an early visit to Japan, so that he can emphasise the importance of inward investment from that country to Britain, we can remain the principal recipient of Japanese inward investment among all the European countries and we can continue to talk up the enormous advantages of British industry—contrary to Labour, which always seeks to destroy its character?

Mr. Needham

My hon. Friend will be pleased to learn that my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and I are going to Japan next month—along with two hon. Ladies from the Opposition—to achieve precisely the objective that he wants.

Mr. Robin Cook

Did the Minister note that the business men who accompanied the Prime Minister on his trade mission to India complained that the premiums charged by the British Government for export credits are still double those charged by the Governments of our competitor countries? Why does the Department's budget for next year show that it is to stop subsidising export credits and start making a profit from them? How does the Minister expect British exporters to win in the world market if they are saddled with the only Government in the world who are using export credits as a source of profit?

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is nonsense. He knows that the ECGD has paid out in almost every year of its existence to top up the interest rate to which he referred. It so happens that, because interest rates in this country have fallen below the OECD average, it is possible—indeed, probable—that the ECGD will start to recoup some of the money that it has paid out. The hon. Gentleman is talking through his hat—or would be, if he were wearing one.

As for the premium rates in India, given the losses suffered by the ECGD, we must accept the need to make a reasonable effort not to waste the taxpayer's money. If one compares British premium rates with those in Germany, one sees that one reason why we did so well in Hong Kong, in the face of German competition, was that our premium rates were lower.