HC Deb 15 May 1996 vol 277 cc943-4
14. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the work of the trade promoters in his Department. [28370]

Mr. Nelson

The number of export promoters remains at around 100. This is a partnership between the Government and the private sector that helps us win in overseas markets. I pay tribute to the companies that have seconded high-calibre executives to the Department to boost our export efforts.

Mr. Arnold

My hon. Friend will be aware of the opportunities opening up for British exporters in the growth markets of the world, particularly in Latin America. I am sure that he is aware of the great progress that is being made by the bigger British firms in particular. Is he aware that small and medium-sized firms have terrific opportunities in Latin American markets and that the export promoters to whom he has referred are a key element in making introductions and helping them into those markets?

Mr. Nelson

The Government spend approximately £200 million a year on export promotion programmes of one kind or another, and a good part of that money is focused on small to medium-sized enterprises. The Government are keen to promote the export habit among small and medium-sized businesses, not just on our doorstep in Europe but in the new and exciting growth markets of south America. We are having difficulties in some areas, including south America, in recruiting export promoters. I am grateful to the 157 companies that have come forward and seconded export promoters, and I hope that there will be growth in the number of active export promoters in south America.

Mrs. Roche

How can the Minister be so complacent when, this week, we have had the publication of the Grant Thornton survey, which shows that our European rivals export more than our small and medium-sized enterprises? Is it not about time that the Minister and the Government did something in this area and created a database of exporters so that we can catch up with some of our competitors who have already created such databases?

Mr. Nelson

The hon. Lady must get up to date with the facts. Does she not know what the business links are doing? I would be happy to provide her with some information about the database that they are building to help small business, in particular, to access business and export opportunities worldwide. As far as reports are concerned, I would rather take notice of the report issued by the National Audit Office in April. Its key finding was that the services looked at in the sample market helped to generate an extra £345 million of additional business at a cost of £4.5 million and generated important intermediate benefits, such as business contacts and increasing export competence. Taxpayers' money is being well spent in export promotion, not just for major companies but for small to medium-sized companies as well.

Mr. Congdon

I welcome the important role of export trade promoters. Does my hon. Friend agree that their success is dependent on Britain's businesses producing goods and services at prices that people overseas are willing and able to pay? Does he also agree that the price of those products would inevitably increase if the additional burdens of the social chapter and the minimum wage were placed on businesses and that those price increases would put many of our companies out of the export market and ensure that people lost their jobs?

Mr. Nelson

Yes, I agree. I believe that labour costs in Germany are almost double what they are in the United Kingdom. The cost and the infrastructure imposed on businesses by the social chapter would be enormous. Let us remember that we have had the lion's share of inward investment because of the new competitive scene that the Government and Conservative policies have created. The biggest danger to employment, exports and productivity in this country is any change of course promoted by the Labour party, and we will have no part in it.

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