HC Deb 28 May 1970 vol 801 cc575-8W
Mr. Hazell

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

Mr. Mason:

The E.F.T.A. Council met in Geneva at Ministerial level on 14th and 15th May. The outcome of the meeting is recorded in the following communiqué:

The E.F.T.A. Council and the Joint Council of E.F.T.A. and Finland met at Ministerial level in Geneva on 14th and 15th May, 1970 under the Chairmanship of Mr. V. Xavier Pintado, Secretary of State for Commerce of Portugal. In the name of his colleagues the Chairman welcomed Mr. Gylfi Gislason, Minister of Commerce, as the first representative of Iceland to attend an E.F.T.A. Ministerial meeting since his country joined the Association on 1st March, 1970. The Icelandic Minister expressed his Government's satisfaction at Iceland's membership and its hope that this would prove to be to the benefit of all members.

Noting that 3rd May this year had been the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the Stockholm Convention, the Councils expressed satisfaction with the progress that had been made during the ten years. The removal of tariffs and quantitative restrictions within the first six and a half years of that period coupled with other measures taken in the non-tariff field, particularly the efforts designed to secure conditions of fair competition, had greatly stimulated the trade of the member countries.

Ministers noted that, in the ten years in which the total trade of the eight countries had doubled, their trade with each other had almost tripled. They agreed that this expansion had contributed to the prosperity of the hundred million people in E.F.T.A. They were also convinced that their participation in the Free Trade Area had helped to prepare their Governments and their economies for participation in a wider European market.

In the E.F.T.A. Council, with the Finnish Foreign Minister taking part in a personal capacity, Ministers held a full discussion on the prospects for European integration. They warmly welcomed the outcome of The Hague Conference of Heads of State or of Government of the Member States of the European Communities, in particular their agreement that negotiations should be opened between the Community and the States seeking membership, and that as soon as these negotiations had started discussions should begin with the other E.F.T.A. States that had sought them. This Conference and the subsequent developments had greatly improved the prospects of making progress towards wider European integration.

Ministers recalled their communiqué of April, 1967, and reaffirmed their strong interest in safeguarding, as an important part of an enlarged European Community, the free market already established in E.F.T.A.

Ministers were fully prepared for negotiations and discussions to start as early as possible this summer: it was their firm conviction that the best solution would be that they should be brought to finality simultaneously.

Ministers agreed that in the course of the negotiations and discussions there would be a continuing exchange of information and consultation between the E.F.T.A. countries. They also agreed on a procedure to this end.

Ministers also noted with satisfaction the continuing progress made towards co-operation in the technical field and at the European Patent Conference.

After reviewing the dangers inherent in the present world trade situation, E.F.T.A. Ministers pledged their best efforts to maintain the high degree of trade liberalisation hitherto achieved. They agreed that it was essential that the results of the Kennedy Round should be fully implemented: they further agreed that any movement towards protectionism should be resisted. They reaffirmed the support of their Governments for the valuable work being done in G.A.T.T., which they hoped would lead to new endeavours to reduce further the barriers to world trade. Ministers emphasised the importance of increased possibilities for the expansion of trade between Western and Eastern European countries. They stressed the need for active progress towards the solution of the trade problems of the developing countries in the perspective of the second United Nations development decade.

Ministers agreed to consider practical possibilities for further improvement in the conditions for intra-Area trade in agricultural products.

Ministers noted with satisfaction the great improvement in the United Kingdom balance of payments in recent months and urged the early abolition of the import deposit scheme. In reply the President of the Board of Trade pointed out that the level of deposits had twice been reduced in the last six months and was now three-fifths of its original level. Moreover travel allowances had been increased to an extent which virtually amounted to the abolition of the restriction. While it was necessary to proceed with some caution he could assure the Council that his Government had no intention of renewing the import deposit scheme when the existing legislation expired at the beginning of December. Ministers welcomed this assurance and expressed the hope that the scheme would be dismantled even earlier and as a matter of priority.

Ministers noted the text of a Convention for the mutual recognition of inspections in respect of the manufacture of Pharmaceutical products. The aim of this initiative taken by E.F.T.A. countries is to contribute to the removal of trade barriers through the reciprocal recognition of inspections made by national health authorities. Ministers approved the work so far undertaken on this and encouraged an early acceptance of the Convention by the Member States of E.F.T.A.

The next ordinary meeting of the Councils at Ministerial level will be held in Geneva in November.