A Cheann Comhairle, I beg leave to make a short statement on our position in relation to the European Economic Community, so that any references this afternoon, on the Motion for the approval of the OECD Convention, to this important matter may be based on the most up-to-date information.
The White Paper issued last weekend has, I hope, helped Deputies and others to form a clearer idea of the scope and content of the Rome Treaty and to appreciate generally what membership or association might involve for Ireland. The White Paper sets out once again, by reference to the facts of our trading position, the Government's conviction that the national interest would not be served by our seeking to join the European Economic Community unless and until Britain decided to do so.
All the relevant date amply justify this attitude. It appears, for instance, to be certain that each member of the Community must apply the common external tariff to all non-member countries; and it is unnecessary to elaborate on the fundamental change which our being obliged to do this vis-à-vis Britain would cause in the special trading relations we have long had with her. For these reasons, the question of our establishing a link with the Common Market while Britain should remain outside is not a practical one. If, however, Britain should join the Community, the reasons which, in the alternative case—namely, her not joining—militate against our being linked with it, constitute arguments in favour of that course and are reinforced by other considerations.
At present we enjoy entry free of duty to Britain over virtually the whole range of our exports. This privileged position we share with a number of other countries—the members of the Commonwealth and South Africa. In time, as a result of the EFTA Convention, the other six members of that Association will enjoy a similar position in the British market for their industrial exports and, to that extent, our competitive position in that market will be adversely affected. If Britain and other EFTA countries join the Common Market, the special position which our exports at present enjoy in the British Market will be shared not only with these EFTA countries for industrial goods, but with the members of the Community for both industrial and agricultural products. Thus, Britain's entry to the Common Market would have as consequence a potentially very serious dilution of the export advantages we now have in Britain. But she would be obliged, at the same time, to apply the common external tariff of the Community to imports from this country, subject to whatever exceptional treatment she might secure in respect of imports at present enjoying preferential treatment.
It is thus obvious that the consequences of Britain's joining the Common Market and our remaining outside could be very grave indeed; and recent developments suggest that the British Government are very seriously considering doing so. It is the Government's view that, if such a decision were taken, it would be necessary that we also should seek to establish a link with the Community.
In view of the critical importance for us of whatever decision the British Government may take about membership of the E.E.C. and the conditions in which such membership might be achieved, I recently made known to the British Prime Minister our desire for consultations at Ministerial level. Mr. Macmillan welcomed my suggestion, and a delegation consisting of the Minister for Finance, the Minister for External Affairs and myself will be going to London shortly for this purpose. The talks in London will open on the 18th July.
The Government have taken steps to inform each of the six Governments of the European Economic Community and the Commission of the Community in Brussels that, in the event of the United Kingdom applying for membership of the E.E.C., we also will so apply, while at the same time informing them of our difficulty in accepting, in the present stage of our development, the full obligations of membership and of our desire to explore the modifications of these obligations that might be negotiated having regard to our circumstances. We thus hope to get a clearer view of the realities of the situation and the specific implications for Ireland of membership of the Community. I need not emphasise the significance for the economic future of this country of the present trend of developments. It is, of course, the responsibility of the Government, subject to the ultimate approval of the Dáil, to determine the course of action which would best suit our interests. The Government will take their decisions on this matter on the basis of a careful assessment of all aspects of the problems involved.
While the prospects of a link between this country and an expanded Economic Community, embracing our largest customer, are stimulating, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that many radical and painful adjustments and adaptations would be involved. It is essential that all those active in our economic life should realise what these developments may entail. The Government and the Departments of State are ready to assist in this matter, by the provision of information, the discussion of problems and in any other way which might be helpful. The Government have, indeed, already taken certain steps to ensure an efficient liaison with those engaged in the more important sectors of the economy which may be directly affected by these developments.
Having regard to the terms of the Rome Treaty, it is particularly important that a critical appraisal be made urgently of the measures that may require to be taken to adapt Irish industry to conditions of more intensive competition in home and export markets. The Federation of Irish Industries has already taken steps in this direction. The Government have accepted the responsibility of helping industry in accelerating this operation and, jointly with the Federation of Irish Industries, have made arrangements for a comprehensive survey of the industrial sector, directed towards an examination of the difficulties that may be created for particular industries and the formulation of positive measures of adjustment and adaptation.
The survey will be a joint effort by the Government and industry, and it will be carried out by a number of working teams, which will comprise officers of the Department of Industry and Commerce, economists (drawn from the Department of Finance or from outside the public service) and technical experts where necessary, with the assistance of representatives of each industry or group of industries. The work will be co-ordinated by a committee, to be known as the Committee on Industrial Organisation, on which the Federation of Irish Industries as well as the Government Departments concerned are represented.
Because of limitations as to the number of experienced staff that can be made available for the work, it will be necessary at the outset to select an initial list of industries to be surveyed, but it is intended to extend the survey to cover the widest possible range of industries. Meanwhile, each industry and each individual firm should feel it incumbent on itself to direct its full attention to the problems of the future and the measures necessary to overcome them. There would be a serious loss of time and opportunity if industries were to take the view that no immediate action on their part was necessary and that they could merely wait until they had been brought within the ambit of the general survey.
Arrangements have also been made for consultations with agricultural organisations on the implications for Irish agriculture of possible impending developments in regard to the Common Market. As a preliminary step, three of the more representative and broadly-based organisations, namely, the General Council of Committees of Agriculture, the National Farmers' Association and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association, have been invited to a discussion in the Department of Agriculture on the 7th July. The White Paper contains a good deal of information about the plans which the Community have been working on for agriculture. These plans and proposals have not yet been finalised, but it is the intention to keep the various farm and commodity organisations informed of developments which might affect their interests and to seek their views and discuss any problems with them.
The Government have also made arrangements for talks on the 11th July with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Without the full understanding and co-operation of trade union leadership and of workers generally, it would not be possible to solve the many problems of adjustment to the changed conditions which participation in the Common Market would entail. The drive for maximum efficiency and increased competitiveness, which is, in any event, a necessity of our continued economic progress, would have to be considerably accelerated in the context of a link with the Community.
Generally, a very high degree of national solidarity and co-operation must be achieved in order to meet the changing economic and trading conditions and to ensure that we will be in a position to take advantage of their favourable features and to maintain as fast a rate of national development as possible.