North Atlantic Free Trade Area

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

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

I am coming to the point raised by a number of Members.

N.A.F.T.A. means different things to different people, as has been evidenced in our debate and was evident at the Conference at Church House earlier this month. There are those who have advocated a nucleus of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Some would include the E.F.T.A. countries; some would include Japan; some would like to see Australia and New Zealand included. Others maintain that it should be a sufficiently open-ended arrangement to accommodate the E.E.C. as abloc. Some see it as confined to an industrial free trade area. Others would include agricultural arrangements, and it is difficult to see how agriculture could be excluded from this wide concept.

As a result, practically any judgment made about the likely consequences of N.A.F.T.A. depends on the basic assumptions made, and these vary widely. The pro-N.A.F.T.A. study published by the Maxwell Stamp Associates described its conclusions as "estimates on the basis of other estimates". Much depends on what assumptions are made about the membership and nature of a new grouping. If one considers trying to determine either a geographical area for N.A.F.T.A. or to establish the principles on which it should be founded, the assumptions which emerge are precisely the kind of thing on which it is impossible to be firm, complete and absolute, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) with the trade figures he quoted as to what would happen in the next few years between ourselves and Canada. It is equally possible to argue that the assumptions of these estimates are too static and unrealistic but that if different assumptions were made the results would appear neutral or even harmful.

I come to the question of trying to quantify the arguments put forward in the terms of a consensus view about membership. The scope and scale of the factors which have to be assessed is such and their uncertainty so great that no one could rely on such estimates over the period on which such a long-term proposal as N.A.F.T.A. would have to be judged. We have no reason to suppose that the United States Administration have any interest in N.A.F.T.A.