HL Deb 10 February 1992 vol 535 cc447-8

2.37 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take in respect of the import of duty-free Chinese bicycles.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Reay)

My Lords, under the European Community's Generalised System of Preferences, bicycles from China enter the United Kingdom free of duty. When imports in any year reach a pre-arranged ceiling level the United Kingdom industry may submit a case to Her Majesty's Government for the reimposition of duty for the remainder of that year. If the case shows that the industry is being damaged by duty-free imports, the Government are likely to ask the European Commission for duty to be reimposed for the whole Community.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. When is the action to which he has referred likely to be taken?

Lord Reay

My Lords, it depends on what happens in the course of this year. If imports of Chinese bicycles once again reach the ceiling, and if the industry submits a case for the reimposition of duty, we shall then examine the case carefully and request reimposition of duty if the industry can demonstrate that it has been damaged by the imports.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I understand perfectly the point that the noble Lord raises. However, is he aware that the Chinese Government, and indeed the Chinese people, would welcome more trade with this country? Indeed, they are a huge and expanding market for all our products. Will he ensure that discussions take place with the Chinese Government about this problem and indeed about possibilities for increased trade between our two countries?

Lord Reay

My Lords, the GSP has been in force now for many years. It is designed to promote economic growth in developing countries by offering their manufactured products preferential access to industrialised markets, in this case the European Community market. China is a developing country.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, will consultation take place between the Community and Her Majesty's Government before allowing free imports of Chinese articles?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we have had consultations with British industry. The import of bicycles from China is part of the GSP scheme, which is a European Community scheme.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, in his reply my noble friend did not give us percentages. What percentage of the current market in Europe is now covered by imports from China? Who blows the whistle when the figure is too high?

Lord Reay

My Lords, the ceiling at which duty may be imposed is fixed at 9.5 million ecus. That ceiling is monitored. We have asked the Commission to monitor the impact of the import of Chinese bicycles on a monthly basis so that we can learn quickly if that ceiling has been reached. We would inform British industry if that happened.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, what has happened to the British bicycle industry over the past few years?

Lord Reay

My Lords, I do not believe that I can answer that question in one sentence. If the noble Lord puts down a Question I shall be happy to give the details that he requests.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a major objective for health and environmental reasons should be to get more people on bicycles, and that anything which encourages the supply of bicycles at a lower price is desirable?

Lord Reay

My Lords, my noble friend makes a case for free trade, in which we are firm believers. We believe also in the progressive reduction of tariffs.