Trade Balance

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 27th January 2005.

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Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East 11:30 am, 27th January 2005

What estimate she has made of the balance of trade in the current financial year; and what estimate she has made of the balance of trade with the EU in the current financial year.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Trade) (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Department of Trade and Industry) (Trade) (also Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The Government do not produce forecasts on a geographical basis. However, figures published by the Treasury in the December 2004 pre-Budget report forecast a trade deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product of 3.7 per cent. in 2004, falling to 3.5 per cent. in 2007.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

Does it not genuinely worry the Government that, whereas in 1970 we had a positive balance of trade in goods with the 15 members of the EU before we joined that organisation—allegedly to improve our trade—in the past 25 years we have seen horrendous and worsening deficits in our trade with Europe, culminating in a figure of £24 billion last year? Why has our trade with Europe gone so horribly wrong, and what can be done about it?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Trade) (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Department of Trade and Industry) (Trade) (also Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

That is an intriguing point for the hon. Gentleman to make, given his long-held views on this matter, not least because one of the contributory factors has been the outstandingly long and successful growth in the British economy over recent years. However, that should not mask the more general point that more than half our trade is with the European Union. Nearly 60 per cent. of our exports of goods are sent to European Union markets, accounting for 3 million jobs in what is still an extraordinarily strong British economy.

Photo of John Battle John Battle Labour, Leeds West

Are not the Government's efforts to promote a better balance of trade, not only with the EU but internationally, greatly helped by British Trade International, a Government body that fuses the assistance of both the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry? When that body was set up, I seem to recall the Conservatives praising our efforts and welcoming the initiative as a positive step forward. What effect would the proposal in the James review to abort it have on our future balance of trade?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Trade) (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Department of Trade and Industry) (Trade) (also Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am well aware of my right hon. Friend's expertise in this area and of his immense contribution to the establishment of British Trade International and its successor body, UK Trade and Investment. His expertise is evident from his question, and it explains his incredulity that, when BTI is doing such outstanding work for British exporters and in bringing inward investment into the United Kingdom, the Conservatives should choose this time to suggest that it should be abolished.

Photo of Robert Smith Robert Smith Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

Does the Minister recognise that one issue affecting our balance of trade with Europe in relation to large manufacturers and energy users is the fact that energy prices in Europe are established by a different mechanism from that used in our liberalised market here? What action are the Government taking to ensure that the EU delivers a fully liberalised energy market on the mainland of Europe, and when does the Minister expect that to be achieved?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Trade) (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Department of Trade and Industry) (Trade) (also Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I appreciate that this is an important issue. Tomorrow I am meeting in my constituency representatives of Ciba Speciality Chemicals, one of our main manufacturers, which has concerns about the operation of the energy market in Europe. I am working closely on this matter with my colleague, the Minister for Energy and E-Commerce, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we take it very seriously.