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12. Mr. Pawsey: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what is the current value of British exports; what it was in (a) 1979 and (b) 1989; what are the United Kingdom's principal markets; and what they were in (i) 1979 and (ii) 1989. [28367]

Mr. Nelson: In 1995, the value of United Kingdom visible exports was £153 billion. United Kingdom visible exports were worth £40 billion in 1979 and £92 billion in 1989. In 1995, the United Kingdom's top four export markets were Germany, the United States of America, France and the Netherlands, the same countries as in 1979 and 1989.

Mr. Pawsey: Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures underline the success of the Government's policy in promoting exports? Does he further agree that that success is based on a combination of low interest rates and low inflation, and that all that success would be placed at risk if we introduced the social chapter, a move that is urged by Opposition Members?

Mr. Nelson: I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. This is a success story which I hope will be proclaimed in all parts of the House. It has not just happened against stiff international competition; it has happened because of distinctly Conservative Government policies--tough policies over a number of years--to

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improve the competitiveness of British industry. Also exciting is their effect on a range of industries. Manufacturing, about which we have heard a great deal today, has been a major beneficiary. Manufactured exports are up by 11 per cent. over the past year. About 10 years ago, oil was our biggest export; now, electrical machinery is. That says something about the competitiveness and success of the United Kingdom's manufactured exports.

Mrs. Ewing: In view of the significant contribution made by the Scotch whisky industry to exports, especially to the European Union, is any progress being made with harmonising tax regimes?

Mr. Nelson: I hear what the hon. Lady says and I welcome the fact that she speaks up for the Scotch whisky industry. I also claim to be its champion worldwide. The other matter that the hon. Lady mentions is one for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I shall ensure that her representation is drawn to his attention.

Lady Olga Maitland: Will my hon. Friend confirm that our volume of manufactured exports since 1981 has vastly exceeded those of France and Germany? Does he agree that that is because we are not fettered by the social chapter and a minimum wage and are able to compete at a real and competitive rate?

Mr. Nelson: Those are significant influences on our export performance. We are now exporting more per head than the United States or Japan, and much of that is due to the reduced cost base and the more competitive situation that obtains here. However, a good part of it is also due to the much lower, and sustained, plateaux of inflation and interest rates to which my hon. Friend--and my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey)--referred. We must follow the tough policies that will make that endure. The major beneficiaries will be our exporting and employing industries.

Mr. Madden: Will the Minister confirm that India remains a foremost export market for United Kingdom companies? Will he also confirm that, as a result of the recent elections there, there is grave concern about the political instability which clearly now exists and about the growing tension between India and Pakistan, not least over the issue of Kashmir? Will he press British Aerospace to cancel the deal for the sale of 23 Hawk 100 aircraft to India and the transfer of technology that would enable India to produce Hawk aircraft? Will he arrange for export credits and export guarantees to be withdrawn and press for this irresponsible deal to be cancelled immediately?

Mr. Nelson: No, I will not. However, I join the hon. Gentleman in celebrating the fact that our exports to India and our trade with that country have increased exponentially. They are up by some 80 per cent. over the past three years. That is a tremendous tribute to the Indo-British partnership that our Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of India instigated. I hope that the result of the recent Indian elections will not in any way interrupt our excellent trading relations with India. If defence is part of that, I am very pleased, and I do not think that it will influence in any way the outcome or resolution of the

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extremely unhappy situation in Kashmir about which the hon. Gentleman has spoken in the House on more than one occasion.

Trade Promoters

14. Mr. Jacques Arnold: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the work of the trade promoters in his Department. [28370]

Mr. Nelson: The number of export promoters remains at around 100. This is a partnership between the Government and the private sector that helps us win in overseas markets. I pay tribute to the companies that have seconded high-calibre executives to the Department to boost our export efforts.

Mr. Arnold: My hon. Friend will be aware of the opportunities opening up for British exporters in the growth markets of the world, particularly in Latin America. I am sure that he is aware of the great progress that is being made by the bigger British firms in particular. Is he aware that small and medium-sized firms have terrific opportunities in Latin American markets and that the export promoters to whom he has referred are a key element in making introductions and helping them into those markets?

Mr. Nelson: The Government spend approximately £200 million a year on export promotion programmes of one kind or another, and a good part of that money is focused on small to medium-sized enterprises. The Government are keen to promote the export habit among small and medium-sized businesses, not just on our doorstep in Europe but in the new and exciting growth markets of south America. We are having difficulties in some areas, including south America, in recruiting export promoters. I am grateful to the 157 companies that have come forward and seconded export promoters, and I hope that there will be growth in the number of active export promoters in south America.

Mrs. Roche: How can the Minister be so complacent when, this week, we have had the publication of the Grant Thornton survey, which shows that our European rivals export more than our small and medium-sized enterprises? Is it not about time that the Minister and the Government did something in this area and created a database of exporters so that we can catch up with some of our competitors who have already created such databases?

Mr. Nelson: The hon. Lady must get up to date with the facts. Does she not know what the business links are doing? I would be happy to provide her with some information about the database that they are building to help small business, in particular, to access business and export opportunities worldwide. As far as reports are concerned, I would rather take notice of the report issued by the National Audit Office in April. Its key finding was that the services looked at in the sample market

at a cost of £4.5 million and generated important intermediate benefits, such as business contacts and increasing export competence. Taxpayers' money is being

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well spent in export promotion, not just for major companies but for small to medium-sized companies as well.

Mr. Congdon: I welcome the important role of export trade promoters. Does my hon. Friend agree that their success is dependent on Britain's businesses producing goods and services at prices that people overseas are willing and able to pay? Does he also agree that the price of those products would inevitably increase if the additional burdens of the social chapter and the minimum wage were placed on businesses and that those price increases would put many of our companies out of the export market and ensure that people lost their jobs?

Mr. Nelson: Yes, I agree. I believe that labour costs in Germany are almost double what they are in the United Kingdom. The cost and the infrastructure imposed on businesses by the social chapter would be enormous. Let us remember that we have had the lion's share of inward investment because of the new competitive scene that the Government and Conservative policies have created. The biggest danger to employment, exports and productivity in this country is any change of course promoted by the Labour party, and we will have no part in it.

Steel Industry

15. Mr. Barry Jones: To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the steel industry. [28371]

Mr. Lang: The United Kingdom's steel industry is highly competitive, ranking among the world's best. Productivity has increased five-fold since the 1970s and exports of steel products are worth more than £4 billion.

Mr. Jones: Will the Minister accept an invitation to visit one of the world's finest steel finishing plants--Shotton steelworks in my constituency? Does he agree that the Governments of Spain, Italy and Belgium are bending the rules of the steel aid code to the detriment of steelworks such as Shotton, the Welsh finishing plants and the stripmills? Does he agree that the steelworkers of Britain have made huge sacrifices in the way of tens of thousands of redundancies over the past 10 years? Will he use his veto on the steel aid code, if necessary, to stop cheating on the continent?

Mr. Lang: I welcome the Labour party's change in tone regarding Governments who use subsidies to support their steel industries. We shall certainly support the renewal of the steel state aid code on the basis that it is at least as tough as the present code.

As to the hon. Gentleman's kind invitation to visit his constituency, I shall consult my diary. I believe that Shotton celebrates its centenary this year. Its finest years in the past century occurred during its time in the private sector. As a result of the investment of £20 million in 1990, last year, the mill passed its steel production target of £1 million per annum. It is now one of the world's premier sites for the production of coated steel. That is a tribute to the privatisation of British Steel.

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