HC Deb 14 February 1996 vol 271 cc998-1000
8. Mr. Fabricant

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what action he is taking to promote trade with the United States of America; and if he will make a statement. [13510]

The President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Ian Lang)

Overseas trade services, administered jointly by my Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, provide a package of support measures which help British businesses to compete in markets around the world, including the United States of America. A team of export promoters seconded to my Department from British industry also provide active assistance to British businesses.

My Department's "North America Now" campaign has for the past three years assisted British companies seeking to do business in the United States. The second phase of the campaign—to be launched in May—will continue the good work, focusing on opportunities for British businesses tackling the United States service sector.

Mr. Fabricant

I am grateful for that full and detailed answer. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as concentrating on exports to Europe, with which we have a long trading tradition, it is important to maintain ties with North America? It is no coincidence that the biggest single investor in capital in the United Kingdom is the United States and the biggest single investor in the United States is the United Kingdom. That is due not only to the common language but to the common legal system that we enjoy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that trade with the United States, let alone that with France and Germany, would be greatly damaged if a Labour Government were ever elected, and that a national minimum wage would price our workers out of their jobs?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. British exports to the United States last year were valued at £18 billion, an increase of 6.7 per cent., which is a good measure of improved British competitiveness and perhaps one of the reasons why unemployment has fallen yet again in the past month by 29.300, taking the rate down to 7.9 per cent. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are keen to have increased trade liberalisation across the Atlantic between the United States and Canada and Britain in the context of World Trade Organisation trade liberalisation world wide.

Mr. Bell

The House should welcome the question asked by the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). The last time we had such a question was in 1903 from Austen Chamberlain, who believed in imperial preference and split the Tory party. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has the same hopes, but we shall watch his contribution in Lichfield with great interest.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that tariffs between the United States and the European Union are down to 4 per cent. and that if we want to develop world trade it should be done through the financial services sector? My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) talked about the enterprise centre of Europe. Are not all the questions about American trade a smokescreen for competitive devaluations which regard the European Union as a single unit instead of getting down to the real question of a European Union in which we are at the centre of events?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman is talking absolute nonsense. He is right to the extent that the improved tariff relationship between the United States and Europe, as a consequence of the recent completion of the Uruguay round, has increased the prospects for further trade liberalisation and enhanced the opportunities for trade across the Atlantic. With regard to the service sector, he will be pleased to learn that the United Kingdom is the top foreign supplier of services to the United States, valued in 1994 at no less than £20 billion. That puts us abreast of the European Union countries and Japan.

Sir Donald Thompson

Does my right hon. Friend recall what he was told the other day in my constituency by representatives of a carpet firm that is exporting to America and, indeed, all over the world—as is a local machine tool company? They told him that, increasingly, competition abroad comes not from foreign companies but from other British companies.

Mr. Lang

I well remember my very encouraging visit to my hon. Friend's constituency. I also remember the enthusiastic support for the Government's economic and financial policies that I encountered there, and the success stories of our many manufacturing exporters which are contributing to the record figures that we are now achieving in the United States.