Orders of the Day — Customs (Import Deposits) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1969.

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Photo of Mr Richard Body Mr Richard Body , Holland with Boston 12:00 am, 17th November 1969

I thought that I had given them. I acknowledged that there must be safeguards for countries which may be in balance of payments trouble, especially if we persist in maintaining fixed rates of exchange. That is acknowledged by G.A.T.T. and our partners in E.F.T.A., and that is why they did not kick up such a shindig a year ago as they did in 1964 when we introduced the surcharge.

It is right that a country should reserve to itself a protective measure such as this if it is clear that there are balance of payments problems. That, however, is no longer clear. Many countries have heard it gleefully said ad nauseam by Her Majesty's Government —I do not deny them the right to say it and I am pleased that this state of affairs has occurred—that our balance of payments is healthy and in surplus. That cannot be a justification for renewing this scheme for a further 12 months. To do so only undermines the confidence that has existed among our E.F.T.A. partners and I am concerned tonight to point out the effects that the scheme is having on our partners in E.F.T.A.

The astonishing success of E.F.T.A. during the last few years is not sufficiently acknowledged by the Government. The trade between the E.F.T.A. countries increased 2½ times since it was formed.

The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne told us how the trading pattern had changed in the last few years; and that only 22 per cent. of our trade is now with the Commonwealth compared with 45 per cent. some years ago. One reason is that we have enlarged our home market, which no longer comprises only the 50 million population of these islands but the 100 million in the E.F.T.A. countries. This is an excellent state of affairs, and it explains why in the first six months of 1969 trade among the E.F.T.A. partners rose by no less than 16 per cent.

What is even more significant is the remarkable growth of trade between E.F.T.A. and the E.E.C. E.F.T.A. exports to the E.E.C. are twice as large as those in the other direction. To give precise figures, the E.F.T.A. countries have increased their exports to the E.E.C. by 17·8 per cent., while the E.E.C. has increased its exports to the E.F.T.A. countries by only 9·4 per cent. Trade between E.F.T.A. and the rest of the world has shown almost as considerable an increase.

It has been said elsewhere that E.F.T.A. is the fastest growing market in the world, and it would be tragic if we were to do anything to impair its strength or imperil the confidence that exists between its partners. The scheme that it is now proposed to continue will be in force during next year when we may well be negotiating with the E.E.C. If those negotiations taken place, it will be imperative for us at the same time to retain the good will and co-operation of our E.F.T.A. partners. The present scheme does not do that.

If it were clear that we were still in balance of payments trouble our partners in E.F.T.A. would acknowledge the necessity for the scheme, but the Government cannot say "We have achieved a balance of payments surplus; we are out of the red now" and in the same breath offend against the spirit of the E.F.T.A. agreement and, in so doing, jeopardise both trade and good will among our E.F.T.A. partners.

Any course of action which throws doubt upon our good faith is morally bad and politically dangerous. A Bill which perpetuates a non-tariff barrier, which offends against the Convention of Stockholm—to which we are a signatory—and which offends against the spirit of E.F.T.A. must call in doubt our good faith towards E.F.T.A. I therefore believe that the Bill must be morally bad and politically wrong.