HC Deb 30 October 1957 vol 575 cc66-7W
99. Mr. Grimond

asked the Pay master-General if he will make a statement on his recent consultations with European countries over the Free Trade Area.

Mr. Maudling

Yes. Meetings of O.E.E.C. Ministers, presided over by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, took place in Paris on 16th-18th October and the text of the resolutions passed by the Council on 17th October was published in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 29th October.

These meetings were not expected to solve in detail the many complex problems which arise, but rather to give a new political impulse to the Free Trade Area as an essential complement to the European Economic Community and to devise machinery of the kind most likely to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion.

These objectives were fully achieved.

The Ministers of all the 17 countries represented, meeting as the Council of O.E.E.C., unanimously declared in terms more forthright than they have used hitherto their determination to secure the establishment of a European Free Trade Area. They also for the first time placed on record the importance which they attached to the Free Trade Area taking effect parallel with the Treaty of Rome.

To ensure continuous and direct supervision of the whole range of negotiations an inter-governmental committee at Ministerial level was set up. The Committee has already held its first meeting and will meet again at an early date. It consists of representatives of all the members of O.E.E.C.; and the European Coal and Steel Community as well as the European Economic Community when it comes into being will be invited to take part. There is also provision for the Governments of the United States and Canada to be associated with its work.

I would draw the attention of the House to the passage on agriculture in the O.E.E.C. Council's resolution. It was important at this meeting to clarify the United Kingdom's attitude and thus to dispel misunderstandings which might have affected adversely the general course of negotiations. I hope that my statement in Paris and the Council's resolution will have succeeded in doing so. By insisting that agricultural products could not be exposed to the same free competition as industrial goods—the great majority of European countries take precisely the same view—we have never intended to preclude the fullest possible co-operation in this field. Indeed we have always played a full part in co-operation in agricultural matters through O.E.E.C. and in last February's White Paper we declared our intention of continuing to do so. We recognise that there can be advantages in strengthening and developing that co-operation and we are therefore ready to envisage further agreement accordingly on the basis that agriculture is a special problem which requires special treatment.

I must emphasise that this is entirely consistent with the assurances which we have given both to the Commonwealth and to domestic producers.

The Ministerial meetings in Paris represent a significant step forward. A great deal remains to be done, and I do not under-estimate the difficulties, but my right hon. Friend and I were much encouraged by the obvious determination of all the members of O.E.E.C. to reach agreement on the establishment of a Free Trade Area which is of such importance to the political and economic well-being of Europe.