Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 9 Nov 1978

Vol. 309 No. 4

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Textile and Clothing Imports.


Mr. O'Leary

asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he has received trade union representations on imports of textiles and clothing which threaten the livelihood of workers in these industries; and if he proposes to take any action in the matter.

I am not aware of the precise representations to which the Deputy is referring but it is correct to say that trade unions have made representations to me and to my predecessor on a number of occasions in recent years about the levels of imports of textiles and clothing.

As a result of our treaty obligations, in particular those arising from our membership of the Common Market, we are no longer free agents in the matter of imposing import controls. It is not open to us to introduce import restrictions in relation to other member states of the EEC, which are the main source of imports of textiles and clothing. Safeguard measures in relation to third countries are also a matter for Community action under the Treaty of Rome. The Community, through bilateral agreements or autonomous measures, has recently imposed an extensive range of restrictions in the form of quotas or ceilings on all significant low cost suppliers of textiles and clothing. These will in general apply until the end of 1982, and should introduce a degree of stability into the markets of the Community.

The surveillance measures introduced by us in 1975, which still apply to certain textile and clothing products of third country origin, enable us to monitor effectively the flow of such imports. During the present year we received authorisation on a number of occasions from the EEC Commission to restrict imports of clothing in "free circulation" in the Community, which we would otherwise have had to admit, outside of our quotas.

An anti-dumping duty of 40 per cent introduced in 1975 in relation to ladies' shirts and blouses of South Korean origin is also still in force.

The introduction of the employment maintenance subsidy should help the textiles and clothing industries to be more competitive with imports.

We have obligations arising from our membership of the Community but is the Minister aware that within the Community the temporary employment subsidy scheme operated in Britain at the rate of £20 per week per worker in this industry, compared with our £5 per week subsidy to employees in our industry, gives a very unfair advantage to the trade in Britain, that we import their products and that taking the average basic wage of textile workers in Britain their imports here constitute a very big threat to the employment of the 30,000 people in the Irish textile industry? What does the Minister propose to do about that?

The position is not quite as the Deputy puts it. The employment subsidy payable in Britain is not payable to all workers in a particular sector.

To a great proportion of them.

It may be payable to quite a small proportion of them. On the other hand, under the scheme which the Government here introduced this year providing for the payment of £5 per week the subsidy is payable to all workers in particular sectors and therefore possibly may be regarded as more valuable to the industry in the sectors concerned than the British payments. It is probably fair to say that we were forced by the action of the British to introduce this form of subsidy, a form we do not like. We have constantly pointed out to the Commission that the British temporary employment subsidy, because it distorts trade as between Community countries, appears to us not to be in accordance with the spirit or letter of the treaty. The present position is that the Commission have given a directive to the British that they must bring their subsidy to an end at, I think, the end of March 1979.

Would the Minister not agree that even a small proportion of British industry, if their imports are coming to this country, could equal the entire extent of the Irish industry? To that extent they are in a superior position. I do not wish to make it a question of the superiority of our subsidy versus theirs; theirs obviously means more money per worker and an unfair position is posed by their imports here and the Commission has been unsatisfactory——

Question No. 13.

Is the Minister aware that the multi-fibre agreement which is supposed to protect our home industry from third countries outside the EEC lacks strength and that trade union circles are extremely worried about imports from third countries, notably Korea which the Minister mentioned. Their part of the Irish market is increasing year by year both in footwear and textiles. What is being done about that?

The recent multi-fibre arrangement which was entered into some time ago is much more satisfactory from our point of view compared with the position which existed before that. It will have the effect of regulating the Community market in textiles far more satisfactorily from the point of view of all textile producers within the Community. It should be remembered that the great bulk of our imports of textiles and clothing come from other Community countries and that the effect of third country imports in these areas is not as great at all as is sometimes suggested. It should also be borne in mind that we export almost as much in both textiles and clothing as we import.

The Minister does not appear to share the view of the trade unions. Would he meet a trade union delegation on this matter? I understand they have made an application to meet the Minister—in fact they have made several applications to meet the Minister and have failed to do so.

I have met numerous trade unions.

Yes, but on this issue the Minister has not met representations with regard to them. At a time when we are anxious about employment we should take every opportunity which can be taken to protect employment.