Cashmere Industry

First Minister's Question Time — Scottish executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 15th June 2000.

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Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 2:30 pm, 15th June 2000

To ask the First Minister what plans the Scottish Executive has to promote the Scottish cashmere industry. (S1F-411)

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

The most immediate problem for the industry is, of course, the renewed threat of sanctions by the United States Administration. I have been keeping closely in touch with this situation. Everything possible is being done to overcome that threat.

More generally, the Scottish cashmere industry is supported primarily through the enterprise network's Cashmere-made-in-Scotland project, which is being run by Scottish Enterprise Borders. More than £600,000 of public money is expected to be spent on the initiative over the next two years. That will provide support for cashmere companies across Scotland in a range of activities to help them develop markets at home and abroad, boost awareness of the sector, encourage collaboration between companies and increase the overall competitiveness of the sector.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

Does the Deputy First Minister agree that the imposition of a tariff as a result of the US Trade Carousel Act would be detrimental to the Scottish cashmere industry? Although this is primarily a matter for Westminster, will he use his good offices to persuade the European Union finally to settle the banana trade dispute?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

I accept that putting cashmere on the carousel list would be very damaging indeed to the industry. It is for that reason that considerable efforts have been made to resolve the problem. I am taking a personal interest in the matter. There has been engagement with UK ministers and between officials of the Scottish Executive and officials of United Kingdom Government departments about this issue.

The introduction of the World Trade Organisation-compliant banana-importing regime should go ahead without further delay. I share the view expressed earlier this week in a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee by Brian Wilson, the Minister of State at the Scotland Office. He said that the list of victims threatens to change or even to lengthen and that those who are responsible for the negotiations in Brussels have to recognise that that is intolerable. It would indeed be intolerable if the list were lengthened and included cashmere.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I welcome the minister's comments in support of the cashmere industry. Does he agree that other products made in Scotland may be at risk if the tariff list goes ahead, as expected, on 19 June? Can he assure us that he has taken every possible action to reach a solution, not just for the cashmere industry, but for other Scottish products?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

That is a pertinent point. More than the cashmere industry is threatened by this—a number of other products could be threatened. I can assure Cathy Jamieson that considerable efforts are being made. The matter is primarily the responsibility of the Westminster Government, but as I have said there have been contacts at ministerial level and between officials to ensure that Scottish interests—cashmere and others—are properly recognised.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

Cashmere production in the Borders involves 40 companies, employs 2,000 people directly and currently has a £21 million order book, mostly directed to the United States. Is the acting First Minister really satisfied that Labour's Stephen Byers is treating the drastic threat to this vulnerable Borders economy as a priority, given that the deadline for returning cashmere to the 100 per cent plus tariff carousel levy is 19 June?

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat

In the preface to her question, Christine Grahame referred to the success of the cashmere industry in the Borders, which is a great tribute to an industry that produces a high-quality product and has bounced back after the threat that hung over it in March of last year, when the so-called banana wars were looming.

I am satisfied, from the contacts that have been made, that this issue is taken seriously by the United Kingdom Government, which is well aware of the time deadlines and is making every effort. We are certainly in close co-operation and consultation with it to that purpose.