HC Deb 29 November 1995 vol 267 cc1193-4
15. Dr. Spink

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the extent to which his Department has achieved its trade development responsibilities. [868]

Mr. Hanley

Commercial work is now the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's largest single area of activity overseas, involving 35 per cent. of the time of our front line staff. The volume of UK exports grew by 11 per cent. in 1994 against a 9 per cent. increase in the volume of total world trade. Foreign and Commonwealth Office posts overseas play an important role in helping UK exporters to achieve successes such as these and in helping inward investment.

Dr. Spink

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he continue to ensure that Foreign and Commonwealth Office help is focused on smaller companies that want to break into export markets and that major companies are helped because they create so many new jobs for Britain?

Mr. Hanley

I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend. The competitiveness White Paper stated that 100,000 UK companies export, and we set a target of 30,000 new companies joining world exporters by 2000. The majority of those 30,000 companies are bound to be small and medium-sized enterprises. The Foreign Office, through our commercial staff overseas, devotes much of its time to providing market information and contacts to small and medium-sized enterprises—SMEs—which they could not obtain nearly as cost-effectively anywhere else. Around 60 per cent. of companies that take part in outward trade missions that are supported by our posts overseas are smaller companies, so I am pleased that my hon. Friend takes such a great interest in this matter. Our SMEs are benefiting from the help that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can give them.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Do not our trade development responsibilities include making representations to the American Government about the conduct of the Campbell Soups company from Campbell, New Jersey, which closed down a highly profitable manufacturing plant in my constituency? Will the Minister join me in asking the British people to boycott the products of that company throughout the country so that it learns the lesson that it cannot treat our people like rubbish, as it is at the moment?

Mr. Hanley

I not only watched the hon. Gentleman's Adjournment debate on the subject of Campbell Soups, but read it afterwards. I was interested by what he had to say, but it is not part of my responsibility to make representations to the United States on that matter.

Sir Roger Moate

Does my right hon. Friend agree that great opportunities exist for trade and development in the idea of the transatlantic free trade area, encompassing an enlarged European Community, the countries of the European economic area and the north American free trade area, which is so strongly supported already by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Government? Can my right hon. Friend say when practical negotiations might start and confirm that, even though the negotiations might be conducted by the European Community, Britain will have a significant role in such negotiations?

Mr. Hanley

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The EU-US summit will deal with that matter. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary who, as he has said so firmly in recent speeches, is totally committed—as are Her Majesty's Government—on this matter.

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