IF THE CALL for a year's ban on imports of micros is agreed by the Government, it will have a dramatic effect on the home computing market. No longer would there be the present choice for the growing thousands wishing to upgrade their computing capabilities, having had their appetites whetted by the ZX-81.
An increase in the size of the market, similar to that achieved last year, would mean tens of thousands of people chasing the limited numbers which would be available from the producers in Britain. Any extra growth and the Spectrum delays of last year would seem to be short by comparison.
Consider a situation in which there would be no Apples, Commodores or any of the theoretical Japanese invasion. Despite the growing numbers of British machines, it is unlikely that they would be able to cope with the orders.
Having said that, it is easy to understand why British micro manufacturers have made their pleas to the Prime Minister. The members of the British Microcomputer Manufacturers Group are mostly producers of business machines, the exception being Sinclair Research. They have not seen the phenomenal growth of the home computer market but have been working hard at getting a slice of a market long dominated by American machines.
Now they fear their work might all have been in vain, because the Japanese threaten to invade the market. They have seen what happened to the car industry, the motor-cycle industry, the hi-fi industry and the television industry, and they fear it could happen to them.
They see the help the Japanese competition receives from its government, money to help with new developments and exports being only two items, and the ability to consider the market in the long term because each company has the backing of its own conglomerate, and they realise their pricing cannot be on the same basis and is likely to result in lower prices.
By contrast, the Government seems to be doing all it can to discourage our industry from growing. Despite the financial support it has been willing to give to companies to develop their products, it has refused to adopt a buy British policy for micros in Government departments and imposes a 17 percent levy on imports of electronic components used by the British industry in making its machines, whereas the duty on completed machines is only between six and eight percent.
The fears of British manufacturers are compounded by having seen the first of the Japanese machines making a brief appearance on the scene. Names like Epson, Sony and Sharp, no strangers to the British market for a variety of other products, have all produced machines which are threatening to make an appearance in Britain.
Added to that there is the assumption by many people that, if a subject has anything to do with electronics, the Japanese are bound to be better at it than the rest of the world. A BBC television program before Christmas introduced its viewers to the uses of the Spectrum, Dragon and BBC Model B. but saved its greatest praise for the new portable Epson machine, despite the fact that the markets at which each of the machines was aimed was different.
It also failed to mention that the British machines were available immediately and had been for some time, while the Japanese machine had yet to prove itself in the market.
While accepting that the Japanese have been very successful in a limited number of markets, they are not infallible. They have their problems with unemployment and the high levels of public spending. Also many people forget that the most successful country at exporting in the world is Britain.
On that basis it would be better for the British industry to concentrate on its strengths and forget about asking for help in the form of a blanket ban for a year. Apart from the difficulty in achieving the objective, many importers would know about the possibility of a ban and would stockpile the necessary number of machines and there would be the danger of competitors imposing even more stringent import controls. The aim of Sinclair to break into the Japanese market would then get nowhere.
A better course would be for the industry first to start believing in itself. Anyone who doubts the ability of the British to adapt to new markets should study what has happened in the Sinclair market in the last year. While being only a small part of industry's output, it is a good example of what can be achieved with a little ingenuity.
The Government could then build on that expertise by accepting the arguments of Clive Sinclair and removing some of the obstacles to growth. This will be a year in which the direction of home computing will be set. There are a number of ways in which the Government can help it move to the advantage of British manufacturers - but an import ban is not one of them.