Wednesday, 11 June 1975
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mrs. Desmond: asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if he will outline in general terms the constraints imposed by international obligations which are compounding the present difficulties in the textile, clothing and footwear industries.
Quantitative restrictions or increased tariffs on imports, which are the remedies most frequently proposed for the present difficulties in various sectors of industry—particularly in the textile, clothing and footwear sectors—would be contrary to our Treaty obligations, especially those arising under the Act of Accession to the EEC.
 In effect, we have to rely on Article 135 of the Act of Accession to the EEC which provides that the EEC Commission may, in the period to 31st December, 1977, authorise us to take protective measures in the event of serious difficulties arising in particular sectors of the economy. I have made the strongest possible representations to the Commission over an extended period but the Commission has not been prepared to authorise such measures on behalf of our textiles, clothing and footwear industries, because other member States are faced with the same difficulties in these sectors as we are and any concession granted to us could lead to a serious reaction throughout the Community. It is necessary, in this matter, to bear in mind the extent to which the economy of this country depends on exports. Statistics show that even in the very sensitive sectors mentioned there are areas where the value of our exports exceeds that of imports. We would, accordingly, be vulnerable to retaliatory action by other States in response to protective measures in our case especially if these measures were taken contrary to the commitments we have entered into.
The Deputy who put that question, or on whose behalf the question was put, which would probably be more accurate, has not conformed to the Standing Order. I know the lady Member in question probably has something else to do but I make this point to indicate that, with the exception of Deputy Hogan O'Higgins having come in about one minute ago, the benches opposite have been completely empty during the whole of Question Time.
Mr. Faulkner: Would the Minister having replied to this quite obviously planted question, outline in general terms the efforts he has made to overcome the constraints imposed by international obligations which are compounding the present difficulties in the textile, clothing and footwear industries?
Mr. Keating: I wonder if the Deputy would wait for Question No. 12, in his name, asking me to outline the details of my contacts with the EEC Commission and the UK authorities, which I will be doing in the next answer?
Mr. Colley: Could I ask the Minister whether any other member State of the EEC has taken steps to restrict the import into their country of clothing, footwear or textiles, steps which were not taken by this Government?
Mr. Keating: I believe that the system of deposits, as distinct from quantitative restrictions—the system of deposits introduced by the Italians —was introduced in circumstances where they declared a balance of payments difficulty. That was under Articles 108 and 109 of the Rome Treaty. Those are steps that we do not propose to take. I know of no other steps taken by member States which have not been taken by us.
Mr. Keating: I am not so aware. The Deputy will be aware that in invoking Articles 108 and 109 what the Italians did they did with the approval of the Commission in circumstances of a balance of payments crisis, which is what is specifically catered for under Articles 108 and 109. The Deputy will be aware that the damage to this country of declaring a balance of payments crisis where there is not one, for the purpose of protecting certain sectors of  our industry, would be much greater than any possible good we would gain.
Mr. Cunningham: Will the Minister state if the representations regarding dumping and other matters affecting the industry were with regard to dumping into Britain and subsequent dumping here? Has he taken any steps to have some curtailment of this practice?
Mr. Keating: The Deputy will be familiar with the fact that it is difficult to prove dumping into one's own  country. I have discussed this matter with the British but I have had no satisfactory evidence from the British side to prove there is dumping into Britain, with subsequent label alteration and dumping into Ireland. I would add that I cannot produce any such evidence from outside and I would be happy to get any evidence I could use. I have raised the matter with my opposite number in Britain.
Mr. Cunningham: The Minister might get in touch with the Revenue Commissioners who will inform him that shirts manufactured in Thailand, in respect of which a certificate of origin was granted in America, were imported into Britain and they are being landed at the quays in Dublin.
Mr. Keating: I can assure the Deputy my Department have been in touch with the Revenue Commissioners seeking such information. If we get usable evidence we will use it and will take all possible steps.
Mr. Haughey: Will the Minister not agree that the greatest single factor which has contributed to the collapse of Irish industry in general and these industries in particular is the attitude of his Government to capital, investment and enterprise?
Mr. Keating: I repudiate that completely. I cannot help noting the glee with which difficulties are seized on and magnified by the Opposition. They might wish it were so in circumstances where they are not in government but it is not so.
Mr. Faulkner: asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce the dates of his discussions in the past six months with the EEC Commission and the UK authorities in connection with the problems facing the footwear and textile industries; the particular aspects  discussed on each occasion; and the outcome.
Mr. Keating: I had discussions with the EEC Commission and the UK authorities in connection with the problems facing the clothing, textile and footwear industries on the following dates within the last six months:
2nd December, 1974 — Meeting with five EEC Commissioners in Brussels; 9th/10th December, 1974 — Meeting with EEC Commission task force in Dublin; 14th January, 1975 — Meeting with Commissioner Gundelach in Dublin; 21st January, 1975 — Meeting with Commissioner Gundelach in Brussels; 29th January, 1975 and 6th February, 1975 — Discussion with Commissioner Gundelach; 10th February, 1975 — Meeting with Mr. Peter Shore UK Secretary of State for Trade in Brussels.
That was my personal participation but the contacts have been continued at high level in my Department and they are continuing. The matters under discussion at all of these meetings were the problems of the footwear, clothing and textile sectors, and the measures which might be taken to remedy these problems.
I have indicated previously the measures which were being taken to help the sensitive sectors of industry in so far as we were free to do so within the constraints imposed by our international obligations. These include anti-dumping investigations, adjustments of the quota licences for textile piece goods from 16 Far Eastern and Eastern European countries, more intensive checking of imports by the Revenue Commissioners, a restraint arrangement with South Korea in regard to exports of shirts from that country and the early introduction of a formal system of surveillance on imports of certain clothing, footwear and textile goods.
Mr. Faulkner: Will the Minister not agree that while these discussions have been going on the footwear and textile industries have been collapsing? Will he impress on the EEC the absolute need to change regulations that are damaging our economy?
Mr. Keating: I heard with some wry amusement — which did not give me any pleasure — the speeches from the Opposition with regard to this matter. I could have taken paragraphs from them and quoted identical arguments which I had made to the Commission and to the British. It is with great regret that I say the rejection of our approach under Article 135 which was conveyed to me on 14th January by Commissioner Gundelach was confirmed on the following day as the position of the Commission as a whole. I am familiar with the arguments the Opposition have made. I made them myself. I can fairly say there was no point made from the Opposition that I had not used in endeavouring to impress the seriousness of the situation on Brussels and on Britain.
Mr. Faulkner: Is it a fact that the task force told the Minister that the remedy largely lay in his own hands, that he could take action in relation to certain types of imports but that he was insisting on the EEC as a whole taking the action?
Mr. Faulkner: Is the Minister aware that everyone involved in the discussions appears to believe that the task force told the Minister the remedy was in his own hands and that the reason no action was taken was that the Minister was insisting on the EEC taking the action?
Mr. Colley: Will the Minister state if the occasions which he has detailed in which he personally participated in discussions on this matter, except, perhaps, the first occasion, came after the introduction and discussion here of a motion tabled by our party which called on him to do so?
Mr. Keating: I would indicate the text of the question to the Deputy which refers to discussions within the  last six months. The question has been down for a few days and it was drawn up a little while ago. I could have excluded the meeting on 2nd December, 1974 from the list on the basis that it is now more than six months ago. I was answering the question asked.
Mr. Faulkner: Is the Minister stating that the EEC Commission took no cognisance of the fact that we are by far the weakest economy of the nine member States? Does he not consider that in these very difficult trading times they should give particular consideration to a country where there is so much unemployment and where certain industries are collapsing?
Mr. Keating: Certainly I will make a further effort. They have comparative figures for the industries and the level of unemployment in all of the countries. If we make that comparison they are able to say that although we are the smallest we are not the weakest. There are countries where unemployment has reached ten times as much as it is here.
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