I have received a number of representations calling for further import controls and have taken action in certain cases. I take the view that a more general policy of import controls would lead to retaliatory action against our exports because the majority of our major trading partners have the same problems of high unemployment as we have and would, therefore, be unlikely to acquiesce in restrictions which sought to deal with our problems at their expense.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Britain is seen as an easy and attractive market by many manufacturing nations throughout the world and that countries such as Japan which have a most favourable balance of trade with this country are hardly likely to cut their own throats by taking retaliatory action against Britain?
I take the view that in certain cases—as we have done with Japan—it is possible to negotiate voluntary restraint arrangements, but more general restraint would provoke emulation and retaliation. It may be true that this is an easy and attractive market. That is a very good reason why British industry should make itself competitive to supply it.
Will the Secretary of State accept my congratulations on the way in which he, his Ministers and his Department have resisted the absurd notion that British industry will be made competitive and will able to do better in the world if import restrictions are artificially imposed? Will he continue this policy and continue to resist anything so absurd as generalised import controls?
We shall certainly resist generalised import controls but, as I have made clear on a number of occasions—most recently at the OECD ministerial council—unless we can relaunch world trade on to a course of a higher rate of expansion, there will, I am afraid, be further deterioration in protectionist directions.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the pressure for controls tends to come in respect of goods for which there is considerable demand, and is it not inevitable, therefore, that such restrictive controls, if imposed, as we found in the case of agreements under the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, are bound to have the effect of putting up the cost of consumer goods, thereby adding to the inflationary spiral?
It is certainly true that consumers have a considerable interest in avoiding import controls. On the other hand, if the present levels of unemployment in the developed world and elsewhere continue, I have no doubt that in the end Governments will increasingly put the interests of their producers first and introduce further import controls.
One recognises that excessive protectionism could be be disadvantageous to the desirable promotion of world trade, but will my right hon. Friend ensure that adequate attention and justified action where necessary are applied in regard to the unfair importation of special steels which are brought into this country at prices little above the cost of production? There ought to be no anxiety at all that action in that area would result in retaliation.
My hon. Friend has a later Question on that subject. We have already taken some action in respect of special steels. If he is assuming that his Question will not be reached, may I say to him now that, if he has information which we ought to consider, we shall certainly be prepared to look at it.