asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce the principal factors affecting our trading competitiveness vis-á-vis the main European economies; the steps he proposes to take to improve our price competitiveness in all areas; if he will give details of the continuing fall in market share of our principal market, the UK; and the steps he proposes to take to restore our flagging exports to that market.
Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Trade Competitiveness.
Competitiveness is a function of factors which involve price and non-price elements.
Price elements would include costs of premises, raw materials, wages and salaries, borrowing and general business charges such as freight.
The non-price elements which are somewhat less tangible include the general business environment, quality and rating of products, marketing, delivery periods, after sales service and absenteeism. It takes longer to change the competitiveness of these elements than it does the price elements.
I am pleased to be able to inform the Deputy that the negative differential between our costs and those of our competitors has narrowed since 1982. Our inflation and interest rates have fallen significantly, pay settlements have been more modest and energy, transport and telecommunications shares have been kept under fairly tight control. Problems of absenteeism and quality control are also being tackled. In accordance with the White Paper on Industrial Policy competitiveness is also being assisted with the new emphasis being given to marketing, product development and technology acquisition.
The Government are committed to continuing their efforts to prevent any disimprovement in the various elements so as to enhance the competitive position of Irish exporters.
Irish exports to the UK increased from £1,763 million in 1980 to £3,212 million in 1985. However, our share of that market has fallen from 3.45 per cent to 3.32 per cent over the same period. As regards redressing the situation I would like to refer the Deputy to the reply given to a similar question by Deputy Foley, columns 2095-2096, Volume 363, No. 10 of the Official Report of 11 February 1986.
I was very disappointed with the Minister's reply to Question No. 8 in the course of which he stated that he welcomed the shift away from the United Kingdom by our exporters.
I welcomed diversification.
It is disappointing to hear that coming from a Minister who has responsibility for trade in that the UK was once our biggest market. Obviously, he is now determined to make sure it slips away. He is not concerned about it.
That is not true.
I had hoped that the Minister would indicate today what he had in mind to try to bring back our share of the UK market. Will the Minister agree that there has been a considerable rise in protectionism as far as markets are concerned and that this has come about because of the strength of the US dollar and the fact that US industry has been trying to protect itself from imports? Will the Minister accept that many developing countries who have difficulty in servicing their external debt accounts have been attempting to do that same thing? Will he agree that this is completely against the whole thrust of the Treaty of Rome as far as open markets are concerned?
The US is not a member of the EC.
I am aware of that but I am pointing out that they set the pattern. That is the reason why there have been urgent talks concerning a new GATT arrangement. Whether the Minister is aware of that or not an effort is being made to get a new arrangement.
Indeed I am.
President Reagan, for the Minister's information, has been standing in the way of protectionism in the US.
I attended the Ministers' meeting in Brussels only last week.
I must point out to Deputy Flynn that he has but four minutes left.
The Deputy cannot stop talking.
If the Minister of State was prepared to listen and shorten his replies which have been a total nonsense today we might have had more questions answered. Will the Minister agree that the averge consignment of exports spends 78 per cent of its transit time standing still because of congestion at air and sea ports? That has arisen because there is no co-ordination of documentation and customs procedures. That is affecting our competitiveness. I should like to direct the Minister's attention to the fact that Commissioner Sutherland said recently that up to 6 per cent of invoice value is lost because of this over duplication and difficult documentation. Has the Minister any proposal to set up a co-ordinating committee with the agencies involved to simplify documentation for exporters?
The internal market council of the EC is primarily responsible. We established a single document only last year and that was one of the major moves in the internal market. In the course of an earlier reply I expressed agreement in principle with the thrust of Lord Cockfield's paper on completing the internal market by 1992. In regard to the US I should like to point out that we are operating under the aegis of the GATT arrangements. Indeed, we are currently discussing the multifibre arrangement. We shall continue to press for an anti-protectionist basis within Europe and with our other trading partners, particularly the US. I welcome the diversification of our exports. Our exporters should be aware that diversification of exports is a good thing because some markets and currencies change in relation to their benefit to the company and the monetary effects on sales of the company. Diversification is necessary as is an understanding of currency changes but the primary thrust of our anti-protectionist stance is in the EC and is under the aegis of the internal market council.
That concludes Question Time.
May I ask a question?
No, the Deputy may not.
If I waited too long I would probably be told I was too late in asking that the priority question in my name should be allowed to stand until the next occasion.
That is quite in order once Question Time has concluded.
This was the second run for that question and it has not been reached.
The Deputy should have a word with Deputy Flynn about that.
I thought we were the only ones with the gift of the gab but it appears that the Minister of State has it also.
I take it that the Deputy wants his priority question left in for the next ballot?
The Deputy has up to 4 p.m. to give that message to the General Office but I will have it sent there for him to save him the journey.
Is it in order to request permission to raise the subject matter of Question No. 16 on the Adjournment?
The Deputy is too late. The request should be made before 3.30 p.m. on a Thursday.
Will the Chair leave Question No. 16 in for the next ballot and No. 22 for priority?
We will try to arrange that.
I had a Private Notice Question down asking the Minister for Justice to explain the circumstances in which the guru of the rich and his party had been allowed to remain in the country——
I disallowed that question and I conveyed a message to that effect to the Deputy. At the Deputy's request we have put the question down for written reply.
That man is a deportee from the US and the Chair's reason for refusing to allow me raise it in the form of a Private Notice Question was that he had arrived in Ireland on 7 March. We did not learn about his presence here until this morning. The Department of Justice may have been aware of it but we did not learn about him until we read a story in the media.
I have ruled in accordance with Standing Orders.
We sought to raise the matter on the grounds of urgency. The man concerned has been deported from the US under allegations of fraud and I was anxious to ask the Minister if there were any allegations that he had been involved in drugs.
I am not going to have an argument about this because if I did there would be hours of argument each day and apart altogether from my blood pressure, I would waste a lot of the time of the House.
From the point of view of urgency——
I will not permit the Deputy to say any more. He is abusing the procedures of the House by trying to get on the record, and elsewhere, something I have ruled out of order. I am calling Deputy Skelly to resume on the next item.
I should like to put a different question to the Minister for Justice. Yesterday the Minister sent two penniless Ethiopians out of the country but today he has allowed the guru of the rich to stay here. I want a statement from Minister on this matter.
The Deputy should resume his seat. He will not get a statement in this way.
May I have a written reply to my question?
The Deputy will have to table the question.
I wanted the question to go for written reply instead of oral reply.
The Deputy will have to hand the question in to the General Office.
My reason for seeking a written reply is that I will get one within a week but I would have to wait for one month for an oral reply.
I know I have spoiled all Deputies but I do not wish to make babies of them altogether.
The Chair is acting in a very fatherly way today.