Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Footwear Industry.

1.

asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if, in view of the critical situation in the footwear industry in this country, he will take steps to prevent the importation of footwear from outside the EEC and curtail imports from EEC countries to an amount equal to the exports from Ireland in the preceding year.

2.

asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if he has reached a decision regarding the importation of footwear; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

As I have indicated in reply to previous questions, our freedom of action in regard to measures to protect domestic industry is limited by the obligations arising from the international agreements to which we are parties and in particular our membership of the EEC. The possibility of action being taken by or through the Community to ease the situation of sectors of industry, including footwear, seriously affected by the present economic situation was taken up with the EEC Commission, and as already announced, following the approaches which I made the Commission has set up a task force which has been in Ireland to examine the problems of certain sensitive industries including footwear.

Can the Minister state when the Commission's task force will issue its findings and come to a decision?

I cannot give a firm date but it has been made absolutely clear to the task force that we look on this as a matter of great urgency and we expect a response before Christmas.

Is the Minister aware that, since the debate began on the Private Members' motion last week, 60 more workers in the footwear industry have become redundant and would he not agree that it is imperative that a decision be reached as quickly as possible so as to safeguard employment in the industry?

I entirely agree with the Deputy on the last point. I have made this clear to the task force and indeed in Brussels to the relevant Commissioners.

In view of the present situation would the Minister not consider getting the employers, the employees and the big traders together for a meeting to see whether anything can be done to persuade the big traders here to buy shoes from the Irish companies?

I have had one meeting with representatives of all sides in the footwear industry. I have had a meeting this morning not specifically with footwear or clothing or textiles or furniture, not specifically with the acutely embarrassed sectors of our economy, but on the general matter of directing the purchasers towards Irish manufactures. I hope to have further initiatives in this area in the very near future.

Has the Minister any plans to deal with the very serious situation in the footwear industry should the task force decision be negative?

The Deputy says "plans". I cannot say there are firm plans because this is a matter on which we have both made comments in this House in another context. In the event of failure to satisfy us by Community action the other possible actions open to us are at variance with our commitments under the Act of Accession. While the possibilities have been looked at carefully it would be wrong for me to say that there were plans because the repercussions of such action over the whole economy are very serious indeed. It would certainly be my wish, the Government's wish and I hope it would be the wish of every Deputy, that the legal channels of Community action should be exhausted before we would proceed to any plans or to any actions of a kind that were in conflict with our commitments.

May I say, Deputies, that there is a motion on this specific subject on the Order Paper which will be debated from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. this evening and will afford Deputies a much greater opportunity of ventilating their views on this important matter.

May I point out that the Minister has already spoken on this motion?

Be that as it may, Deputy, there are some hours yet in the debate.

One final supplementary. Would the Minister agree that the industry, which is employing approximately 5,000 workers, is at present in a critical condition and that it is lax on his part not to be preparing some kind of contingency plan in case it should happen that the decision of the task force is negative?

Further arising——

I am sorry, I am passing on to the next question. Question No. 3 please.

Is the Minister going to answer?

That was an observation rather than a question.

I want to ask a final supplementary on Question No. 2 please.

Deputies should learn to obey the Chair.

I certainly will. I always have.

And the Chair has indicated that there is a debate on this subject in the House this evening.

One final supplementary. When does the Minister expect to have the decision of the task force?

I would refer the Deputy to Deputy Faulkner's first supplementary. That was what he asked me and I answered it as well as I could. I said I had urged the need for great speed and I am hopeful of some decision before Christmas.

3.

asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if he has referred any aspect of the importation of footwear to An Coimisiún Dumpála; and, if so, with what result.

I have not referred any aspect of the importation of footwear to An Coimisiún Dumpála. The normal procedure is for the manufacturer or the trade association concerned to make the request. No recent approach of this kind has been made to the Commission.

In present circumstances would the Minister not consider that he should investigate this matter further? It is quite obvious that there is a very serious situation involved and that this should be investigated to ascertain whether dumping is taking place?

The Deputy may be under a misapprehension. The Commission need serious data on dumping, as it is defined in the relevant legislation, for them to act. I made the point that no recent approach has been made by the manufacturer or trade association. The whole problem here is that, for example, many of the Korean imports that are a source of embarrassment are not dumping as it is defined by any normal process of definition. The Deputy said he was dissatisfied with the definition of dumping and with the protections offered both at Community level and by Irish legislation. He has a point but I do not see the value of referring something without evidence to the Commission. If there is evidence coming forward either from individual manufacturers or from a trade association, from Deputies or indeed from any other source I will certainly act on it promptly.

If certain evidence is available to An Bord Dumpála which would make them strongly suspicious of certain importations have the board power to restrict or stop those imports while an investigation is being carried out?

The powers of An Bord Dumpála are subject to our Treaty obligations. The Act of 1968 provides:

The Commission shall have regard to any international agreements or conventions to which the State is a party.

The situation there is that we must invoke the Community mechanisms before acting in that regard.

Are not imports from places like Hong Kong governed by quotas laid down by the Minister?

I am afraid the position is that imports from third countries into all Community countries are controlled at Commission level. The relevant person is the Commissioner, Sir Christopher Soames, who is the Commissioner for trade with non-Community areas and we do not have individual unilateral powers. People believe that, while we cannot control imports from other Community countries, we can do so with third countries. That is not the case. Imports from third countries are under the control of the central institution of the Community.

May I ask the Minister if he has requested the Revenue Commissioners to keep in close and constant touch with An Bord Dumpála should there be any suspicion of dumping?

Not specifically with An Coimisiún Dumpála, but we have asked the Revenue Commissioners to exert the maximum possible degree of examination, surveillance and scrutiny of documents of origin, and so on, and in every way to ensure that nothing happens which is not obligatory under our existing legal commitments. They have that request to be in constant communication with my Department.