North Atlantic Free Trade Area

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th July 1968.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich 12:00 am, 26th July 1968

My right hon. Friend's intervention was a little premature. As I go on I shall be developing that point further.

As the right hon. Members for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) and Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) said, we want to see tariffs on industrial goods reduced as widely and as much as possible. This is what we have worked for, with considerable success, in the Kennedy Round. When the Kennedy Round reductions agreed last year become fully effective in 1972, tariffs on trade in industrial goods between nearly 50 countries will be reduced by an average of well over 30 per cent. This was achieved without any N.A.F.T.A. It was not needed. Negotiations are going on through the normal channels in G.A.T.T. towards the further reduction of barriers to trade on a worldwide basis. After the Kennedy Round the importance of tariffs as barriers to trade is relatively much smaller as compared with other forms of restriction, such as quotas and tax structure.

Therefore, if N.A.F.T.A. means something more than further efforts to free trade on a world-wide basis, we must consider it in relation to our application for membership of the European Economic Community. This was rightly said this morning in a number of speeches. Clearly, in this context, the French veto which prevented the opening of negotiations cannot be brushed aside, for it has grave consequences for Europe as a whole. But we do not believe, and the Governments of the six member countries do not believe, that it can be the last word on the subject of the enlargement of the Community. Our application remains on the agenda of the Council of Ministers.

In the meantime, we and other European countries must look for ways to prevent a wider split developing in Europe. It is not true to say that everything is static, that nothing has happened, that there are no discussions going on. The Memorandum of the Benelux Governments last January made certain proposals for joint action, which we support. The Council of Ministers is also examining the question of interim trade arrangements. We have said that we shall look at any proposal of this kind if it is made to us by the Community as a whole, provided there is a clear link with our objective of full membership of the Community.

Members have raised the question of our application and its implications. In May last year when the House gave its overwhelming endorsement to the Government's decision to apply for membership it had two crucial considerations in mind. First, there was the wish for an economic and industrial partnership with the countries of Western Europe, and, second, there was the wish for closer co-operation over the whole range of international affairs. We hoped to provide fresh opportunities for the practical application of modern technology and for obtaining the advantages of industrial concentration.