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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 20 Mar 1969

Vol. 239 No. 5

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Anglo-Irish Trade Talks.


asked the Taoiseach the outcome of the latest Ministerial meeting to discuss Anglo-Irish trade.


asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on the outcome of the most recent discussions which took place on the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement.


andMr. Harte asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement concerning the recent talks held in Dublin in connection with the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement.


asked the Taoiseach if he will outline the main topics relating to agriculture which were discussed at the latest Anglo-Irish Ministerial meeting; and the outcome of these discussions.


asked the Taoiseach if he has anything to report as a result of the further talks with British Ministers regarding the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 5 together.

At the Ministerial talks in London on the 27th and 28th February it was agreed that a further meeting would take place in Dublin this month. The meeting on the 14th March provided the opportunity for a discussion in detail of some of the issues raised at the earlier meeting and useful progress was made.

The Irish Ministers again laid particular stress on the need to ensure that the balance of the Free Trade Area Agreement is maintained. The British Ministers reiterated their firm intention to ensure that the Agreement will not operate to Ireland's disadvantage. They fully appreciated Ireland's importance as a customer for British goods and recognised that the continued wellbeing of the Irish economy is in Britain's best interests.

As indicated in the communiqué following the talks, agreement was reached on the arrangements for exports of Irish butter for 1969/70 and for exports of cheddar and cheddar-type cheeses to the United Kingdom market for the two-year period ending the 31st March, 1970. Detailed announcements about these arrangements will be made simultaneously in both countries at an early date. In fact, the announcement on butter is likely to be made later today.

In the course of a very full discussion of the subject, the Irish Ministers emphasised the vital importance for this country of satisfactory access for our exports of agricultural products. The British Ministers confirmed that Irish agricultural exports will be assured the right of duty-free access to the United Kingdom market without restriction of quantity, subject only to the relevant provisions of the Agreement and the associated documents and other agreements to which both countries are parties. There is to be further discussion on the quantities of Irish agricultural products expected to be available for export during the period of Ireland's Third Programme for Economic and Social Development.

In agreeing to voluntary restriction arrangements for exports of cheddar and cheddar-type cheeses to the United Kingdom market for the two-year period ending the 31st March, 1970, Irish Ministers made it clear that they did not regard such arrangements for agricultural products as a normal feature of the Free Trade Area Agreement, and they reserved all their rights in respect of future years. This position was accepted by the British Ministers who gave an assurance that if, exceptionally, such proposals should be contemplated in the future, they would be subject to prior consultations.

In the course of the meeting, it was agreed that discussion at official level about the cattle and beef situation should take place on the 25th March.

The Ministers also discussed United Kingdom investment in Ireland, special problems arising out of the British balance of payments measures, the industrial policies of both countries and industrial exports. There is to be another meeting of Ministers shortly for further discussion of these matters. As indicated in the communique, consideration is to be given at that meeting to the future pattern of meetings between Irish and British Ministers so as to bring both sides closer together.

Could the Taoiseach say whether it is, at this stage, proposed to defer the further reduction of ten per cent in tariffs which is due to take effect in July?

At this stage it is not proposed to defer it.

Arising out of further discussions which may take place, in the event of satisfactory assurances not being forthcoming, I take it that the prospect of deferring the further reduction is not ruled out?

We reserve our position in that respect.

In view of the fact that we are going to have a balance of payments problem, as described by the Minister for Finance in a recent telecast, was there any suggestion from those who represented the Government that there should be a curtailment of imports to this country from Great Britain?

That suggestion was not made.

Does the Taoiseach not think it should have been made in view of what appears, from the Minister for Finance's statement, to be the seriousness of our balance of payments position?

The position as envisaged would not, of itself, require us to take action under the Agreement with a view to restricting imports to control our balance of payments.

You can do it under the Agreement?

We can do it but it could create a much more difficult problem for us.

The Taoiseach is not answering the point. We have a balance of payments problem that is becoming more serious. I do not think it is good enough to be blaming certain sections of the community for the position. The Government should, in negotiating with the British, take whatever steps they think necessary to ensure that the position will be protected. It does not seem as if that is being done. It appears to me and to my Party that, as far as the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement is concerned, the balance is still in favour of the British Government. That is exemplified by the attitude of the three people who represent the Government in allowing a curtailment of part of our dairy produce, cheese, for the next 18 months.

If that is a question, the answer is that we are empowered to take action under the Agreement to restore the balance of payments position.

In the event of there being a reduction in the cheese quota, we still reserve the right to postpone a reduction in tariffs?

That will not relate to cheese. Agreement has been reached there.

How much is the reduction?

I cannot say now. The announcement will be made simultaneously here and in Britain.

On what grounds did the Government agree to a voluntary restraint on cheese exports, which would seem to be a flagrant and absolutely indefensible violation of the spirit of the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement? Could the Taoiseach say what are the terms of this agreement and what repercussions this will have on the Irish dairying industry?

I cannot say what the terms are at this stage, but the grounds on which we came to this agreement as to voluntary restraint were that, unless we did so and unless other cheese supplying countries also did so, there would be a total collapse of the cheese market in Britain which would be to our great disadvantage and particularly to the disadvantage of the dairy farmers.

If what the Taoiseach says is true, then the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement is a complete farce.

Hear, hear.

I do not know how the Deputy can say that. If internal and external conditions cause the collapse of the market in a commodity, that does not in any way undermine the strength of the Agreement.

Is the Taoiseach not aware that this country is being flooded by British manufactured goods, particularly the supermarkets? When we have that position here, surely the Government and the Taoiseach should say now: "We are not going any further in the reduction of the tariffs," or "We will take steps to ensure there will not be such an inflow of British-made goods."

As regards industrial goods, our imports are slightly higher and our exports are slightly lower, but this is due, to a large extent, to the maintenance men's dispute. The situation has not become so serious that we shall have, at this stage, to take action under the Trade Agreement to restrict imports of British goods.

Good. It is about time we said that, and we should tell the British Government that now.

In reply to the original question the Taoiseach said the British negotiators were anxious to ensure that the Agreement did not operate to our disadvantage. Would the Taoiseach indicate what exactly he meant by that? To what extent and from what angle is it operating to our disadvantage?

When the Agreement first came into effect it was envisaged that there would be a considerable increase in the volume of our industrial exports to the UK market and that, as the tariffs began to come down, the volume of imports of industrial goods from the United Kingdom would increase. The balance, I think, is still very much in our favour. However, we are watching the situation to ensure that the balance will not go against us. If that does happen, then we would want to reserve our position to take action under the agreement.

We will keep our options open in regard to tariffs and import restrictions?

Oh, yes. The agreement provides for that. We are entitled to do that.

Did the British Government not agree ispo facto that the agreement was militating against us?

No. They maintain that it is in our favour.

Can the Taoiseach put a figure on the exports we lost during the recent strike?

I cannot, no.

Then I do not think there should be speculation about it.

I can refer the Deputy to the figures published yesterday by the Central Statistics Office which indicate a fall of some million pounds in the value of our industrial exports and an increase in some millions of pounds in our industrial imports.

I accept that, but we cannot have loose statements about the amount lost.

Is it not a fact that we imported in 1968 approximately £74 million worth more than we imported in 1967 from Britain and that Britain imported from us £44 million worth? Is that not what happened in 1968 and is it not a fact also that over the past ten years we imported more than £80 million worth more from Britain than Britain took from us? Is that not the way the balance is?

The actual balance of trade has been always slightly in Britain's favour, but there are other things that matter, services and invisibles, which bring the balance very much into our favour as a general rule and we have to take all these things into account.