Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - European Free Trade

asked the Taoiseach if he has noted the statement emanating from official sources in Strasbourg that discussions are pending between the European Economic Community and the outer Free Trade Group with a view to the furtherance of European free trade; and if it is the intention of the Government to seek representation at such discussions with a view to being privy to the trade agreements pending and to protect any vital interests that may affect this country's economy.

The information available to the Government does not indicate that any arrangements have been made for discussions between the European Economic Community and the European Free Trade Association. If such discussions do take place, we would hope to see them within the ambit of the Organization for European Economic Co-operation, in which case the participation of European countries which are not members of the two groups would be facilitated.

The Taoiseach may have noticed in the Press, since I put down this question, that the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, as well as the statement emanating from official sources in Strasbourg, which came from the Six, indicated that these discussions were to take place. In the light of that, does the Taoiseach not consider that, so many vital interests being concerned, it is Ireland's interest that we be represented or that we should at least make representations to enable us to be present?

I can only repeat that the information available to us does not indicate that any arrangements for a meeting between the two groups have been made.

May I further ask the Taoiseach, if such discussions do take place, that is, if the Taoiseach has official information to that effect subsequently, do we intend to be represented in those discussions?

I have also expressed my hope that, if there are discussions, they will be within the ambit of the O.E.E.C., in which case we would certainly be in a position to participate in them. Indeed, we are encouraged by the many references by spokesmen of other countries involved in these trading arrangements to their desire that discussions, if any, should take place under the auspices of the O.E.E.C.

If no discussions take place, does it follow that, unless we elect to join, we shall be excluded from the new arrangements arising out of the Stockholm discussions?

No; I would not say that that conclusion is necessarily justified.

I hope the Taoiseach will not think I am pressing him unduly. He has expressed in his answer to the supplementary questions his earnest hope that discussions between the Six and the Seven would be conducted within the framework of the O.E.E.C., in which event we would automatically have access to them. Does the Taoiseach feel free to say now that, in the unanticipated event of these discussions between the Six and the Seven taking place outside the O.E.E.C., he will take steps to ensure that we have at least an observer present?

I should not like to answer a hypothetical question of that kind. Certainly, we would have a very lively interest in any such discussions.

Do I take it that our trade talks with the British are in no way dependent on these discussions?