HC Deb 26 November 1968 vol 774 cc88-9W
Mr. Alfred Morris

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the outcome of the European Free Trade Association meeting in Vienna.

Mr. Crosland

The E.F.T.A. Council and the Joint Council of Finland and E.F.T.A. met in Vienna at Ministerial level on 21st and 22nd November. The outcome of the meeting is recorded in the communiqué which I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

E.F.T.A. Ministerial Meeting, Vienna 21st–22nd November, 1968—Communiqué

The E.F.T.A. Council and the Joint Council of E.F.T.A. and Finland met at Ministerial Level in Vienna on 21st and 22nd November, 1968. Mr. O. Mitterer, Austrian Federal Minister of Trade and Industry, was in the chair. The Councils carried out a full review of the activities and prospects of The Association, and of developments in European integration.

Ministers had before them an application from The Government of Iceland for accession to E.F.T.A. They welcomed this application and instructed the Council at Official level to prepare and carry out the negotiations.

The E.F.T.A. Council, with the Finnish Minister participating in a personal capacity held a full discussion on European integration. Recalling E.F.T.A.'s continuing efforts to promote closer economic co-operation in Europe, Ministers reaffirmed their readiness, expressed at their meeting in London in May, to consider in a positive spirit any constructive proposals for interim solutions including trading arrangements which might be put forward by The European Economic Community, provided that these proposals were in conformity with their international obligations. They noted with interest developments since the London meeting and especially the decision of the E.E.C. Ministers to examine all current proposals, in particular those for trading arrangements and technological co-operation. Ministers expressed the hope that these initiatives taken within the E.E.C. would soon result in common proposals by the six. They instructed the permanent Representatives in Geneva to keep the situation under close review in the light of developments in the Communities so as to enable a co-ordinated response to be given to any proposal by the six which might be put to their Governments individually or collectively. Ministers were agreed that any solution must be consistent with Gatt obligations and should provide a reasonable balance of advantage to each E.F.T.A. country.

In discussing the internal affairs of the Association, Ministers stressed the importance of the proper functioning of the Free Trade Area as at instrument for economic co-operation between their countries and as a contribution to a solution to the European integration problem. With this in mind Ministers expressed their determination to secure the rapid implementation of the work programme approved at their meeting in London last May. The main elements of this programme are directed to the improvement of trading opportunities in E.F.T.A., to defining more precisely the responsibilities of Member States under the convention, and to extending consultations in E.F.T.A. in a number of fields.

The Councils expressed understanding for the serious problems arising for certain Member States as a result of developments in trade in agricultural products. Ministers urged the Councils at Official level to complete their review of the agricultural provisions of the convention so as to make possible a detailed discussion of these problems at the next Ministerial Meeting.

The Councils discussed the problem of the import into the United Kingdom of quick-frozen fish fillets from the Scandinavian countries. It IA as agreed that the representatives of the countries directly concerned would meet with the Secretary-General in February or March in order to renew their efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem.

The Councils stressed the importance of the activities of Gatt and agreed to give careful attention to the contribution which could be made by E.F.T.A. Governments to a further dismantling of tariffs and other Trade Barriers, having in mind also the interests of developing countries.

The United Kingdom delegation informed the Councils of the measures which the United Kingdom Government proposed to introduce in the context of the present financial crisis. Ministers instructed the Councils at Official level to examine the matter further.

The next meeting of the Ministerial Councils will be held at E.F.T.A.'s new headquarters in Geneva in early May, 1969.