HC Deb 09 February 1994 vol 237 cc272-4
6. Mr. Riddick

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the effect of GATT on the British textiles industry.

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Richard Needham)

The GATT agreement will lead to the phasing out of the multi-fibre arrangement over 10 years, which will be largely balanced by improved GATT rules to deal with unfair trading practices, better intellectual property rights and lower tariffs in many export markets.

Mr. Riddick

Have there been any developments since my Adjournment debate two weeks ago on the continuing punitive levels of duty being levied on British textiles by some countries, especially India, Pakistan and Indonesia, which makes it almost impossible for our companies to export to those countries? Could I ask the Minister and, indeed, the European Commission to continue to apply pressure to those countries to reduce their tariffs? At the same time, I welcome the GATT deal, which is very good news for most British exporters.

Mr. Needham

Since the Adjournment debate on 27 January, we have continued our efforts to ensure that maximum pressure is brought to bear on Indonesia, India and Pakistan by the Commission. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry went to Athens to exert that pressure only last weekend. There was a preliminary meeting between the Commission and the Indonesians on 1 February and another meeting is being arranged with India and Pakistan on 4 February. As I said to my hon. Friend, the deadline for the GATT proposals to be agreed is 15 February and I have nothing further to report at this stage, except that we are continuing to exert maximum pressure on those countries.

Mr. Cryer

Does the Minister realise that in six days' time there must be some definite negotiations because British jobs are at stake? Does he accept that a group of textile employers said at a meeting I attended that they regarded the GATT deal that the Government had entered into as selling the textile industry down the river? In Bradford, 11,000 direct jobs in the textile industry are at stake and real pressure, including the threat of retaliatory action, must be exerted against the 100 per cent. tariffs for British textiles that are exported. The Government negotiated entry by those other countries into the United Kingdom market, which is extremely unfair and disadvantages textile workers here.

Mr. Needham

The hon. Gentleman, as so often happens with Labour Members, welcomes the GATT agreement in the general and then attacks it in the particular. Indeed, they have a policy: if I contradict myself, so what? The Government, through the Commission, fully understand the concerns expressed by the woollen industry. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) in the Adjournment debate, we will continue to put all the pressure we can on the Commission and the countries involved. Certainly, if we do not achieve our objectives, there is action that we can take under the multi-fibre arrangement, which still has some 10 years to run, either from 1 January 1995 or 1 January 1996, to apply pressure to those countries to come round to a more sensible arrangement.

Mr. Waller

May I emphasise to my hon. Friend yet again that there is genuine concern in the House and throughout the textile industry about the enormous tariffs of 80 or 100 per cent., referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley, which are applied by Indonesia, Pakistan and India? Before the GATT agreement is ratified in Marrakesh in mid-April, will he ensure that no stone is left unturned in emphasising to our European Union negotiators that the jobs that will be lost in this country if we must fight this lack of free trade will never be regained?

Mr. Needham

I give, as I have already given, an undertaking that the Government will do everything that they can to ensure that we continue negotiating up to the last minute of the last hour. I should say to my hon. Friend that in Indonesia the tariff limits on wool cloth, woollens and other textiles are 40 per cent. We are talking about getting duties down to a maximum of 35 per cent. The real problems occur in India, with 85 per cent. tariffs, and Pakistan, with 125 per cent. As I have said, we will do everything that we can to reach a satisfactory conclusion for our industry.

Mr. Bell

In addition to the high levels of import duties in those countries, does not the additional question of child labour have to be faced? Will the Minister look again at the exchanges between the Leader of Opposition and the Prime Minister on 16 December, when the GATT agreement was announced to the House? Is not it a fact that child labour is turning out textiles in many countries and is not it also the case that there are no health or safety provisions for other workers in those countries? Should not we build new platforms, after the Marrakesh final act in April, which prohibit forced labour, which give protection to workers and which are against discrimination?

Mr. Needham

If there are breaches of United Nations conventions on issues such as child labour, the Government and other European, OECD and G7 countries will make sure that they are taken into consideration in our trading arrangements.

However, I think that the hon. Gentleman, once again, is trying to get it both ways. The whole point of GATT and free trade is to open up world trade and particularly to allow goods and services from the developing world to come into the developed world without the high barriers which existed in the past. GATT sets out to do that and the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have welcomed it, although I am never quite sure how real that welcome is.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Council of Ministers yesterday announced the abolition of 6,000 quotas and, in particular, that quotas applying to the Baltic states would be abolished in the new year? However, none of those quotas included the textile industry. Will my hon. Friend urge his colleagues on the Council of Ministers to move to the next step of textile quotas?

Mr. Needham

I agree with what my hon. Friend said about quotas, although I must express considerable disappointment about the way in which the toy quota was finally settled. Quotas on textiles come within the phasing-out arrangements of the multi-fibre arrangement. That is one of the weapons in our armoury to ensure that what is happening in Indonesia, Pakistan and India comes out more favourably for the British woollen industry.

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