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THE COMMERCIAL SUPREMACY OF GREAT BRITAIN.
The relative progress in foreign trade of the principal trading nations of the world may be shown in various ways, and of those ways not the least instructive is that adopted by Sir Robert Giffen in reports made to the Board of Trade in 1888 and in 1894. In these reports, the difficulty presented by the differing bases of valuation in the trade returns of these different nations is partly circumvented by using, for the purpose of comparing progress, the figures provided by the customer rather than those afforded by the seller. There is thus provided a check on the indications of the figures provided by the chief sellers, which are otherwise by far the handiest for the purpose of comparison. In the interval between the appearance of the two Board of Trade reports, the method used in them was employed in the preparation of an article for the Economic JOURNAL, which extended the comparison beyond what was done in the report in some points, though covering less ground in others. This article appeared in two parts, in September and December of 1894, and reference may be made to vol. iv. of the JOURNAL for details of the method employed, if it be not sufficiently obvious from what follows. It is now proposed to bring the comparisons then made down to a date nearer to the present. Reference may also be made to another article by the present writer in the March number of the JOURNAL for 1897, in which some of the figures of the previous article were reviewed and later figures added, but with some changes of the dates used and with the comparison restricted to that between Germany and the United Kingdom. The new figures which it is now proposed to give will relate to the average of the three years 1894–95–96, thus maintaining a uniformity with the progression of dates employed in the articles of 1894, above referred to.
The desirability of making comparisons on the same basis, as nearly as possible, prevents the inclusion in the present tables of any other countries than those previously dealt with. When the Austrian returns have been made as they are now made for a few more years, profitable use may be made of the wider range which would be given by including these figures in the tables. The present tables, then, refer, so far as Europe is concerned, to all the countries of Europe except Austro-Hungary, Greece, Turkey, Servia, and Montenegro. Outside Europe the same degree of completeness cannot be maintained. The Statistical Abstract for Foreign Countries enables us to use the returns of Egypt, of Japan, and, in South America, of Chili, the Argentine Republic, and Uruguay. The figures for the United States in North America, of course, supply a most important part of our material. For various reasons, most of which were sufficiently stated in the former article, the returns of Mexico and of China are not in a form adapted for inclusion with the others. The greater part of the British Colonies and Possessions have their trade returns given in considerable detail in the Statistical Abstract for the Colonies, and all those which are given in detail in that publication afford material for our comparisons.
So far for a recapitulation of the sources and extent of the material available. From the returns indicated are taken out the values of imports of the various countries, and also the values of the imports from the United States, from Germany, from France, and from the United Kingdom. The dealings of these four trading nations with each customer are thus compared on the basis of valuation adopted by the customer, instead of on the different bases of valuation adopted by the selling nations. We may put this comparison alongside that afforded by the sellers’ figures, and by so doing obtain some help in overcoming the difficulties of incorrect returns of countries of origin of imports or of destination of exports which so seriously qualify conclusions based on the returns of one side only. If even a little help towards the actual facts be thus afforded, the trouble will have been worth while.
In dealing with the European figures, some changes are to be noted in the material. Our Statistical Abstract now supplies the details of Russian trade by countries for the whole Empire, not for European Russia separately. The trade with Finland is also now included as external trade, contrary to the former practice. In the Italian returns the figures of imports from France, from 1886 onwards, have been revised, and show a considerable reduction on the figures taken from the Abstract for the compilation of the previous tables. The changes in the totals for European trade are, however, not important.
In the following table the statement previously made is continued, and the figures for the triennial period 1889-91 are repeated (corrected as above indicated) for comparison. It will be convenient to designate the group of European countries here tabulated by a single name, and the term Neutral Europe will be used
for the purpose.
IMPORTS OF NEUTRAL EUROPE.
Average Total Percentage pro. Percentage pro- Percentage pro-Percentage pro.
Imports in portion of Im- portion of Im- portion of Im. portion of Im-
ports from the
United States. Kingdom.
1889-91. 1894-96. 1889-91.1894-96 1889-91. 1894-96. 1889-91. 1894-96. 1889-91.'1894-96.
The general result of this table is, that the group of countries concerned have increased their aggregate imports by £22,500,000, but take £2,250,000 less in the second triennium than in the first from the four great exporting countries specified. Had they continued to purchase as large a percentage of their imports as before from these four, they would have taken nearly £15,000,000 worth more instead of £2,250,000 less. In comparison both with Germany and with the United States, our country shows badly in this group. As compared with a loss of over £7,000,000 from Great Britain stands a gain of £8,000,000 from Germany and of £5,000,000 from the United States. France loses over £8,000,000 on a much smaller total than either Germany's or Great Britain's. If we were to take the figures year by year, we should find that the lowest point reached since 1890 was reached by Germany in 1892, after which increase has been rapid and continuous, the figures for each of the years 1894–95–96 being in excess of those for any year since 1883. The case with Great Britain is far otherwise, the lowest point since 1890 not being reached till 1895, and the figure for that year is less than for any year since 1870, with the single exception of 1887. The decline after 1890 continued for a far shorter period with Germany than with our country, and was much less marked. Whether, therefore, a comparison of a period of extreme depression in one case with one of considerable revival in the other gives a true indication of average conditions may be doubted. Germany's commercial treaties may have a less comparative effect as years elapse.
It is a somewhat striking fact, which the figures for the past twenty years show, that it was in the time of greatest general prosperity of trade during that period, namely, in the years about 1890, that Germany's relative position was the worst. In fact there was a slight actual decline in the purchases of Neutral Europe from Germany in the years 1889–91, as compared with 1884—86 for example. The continuously increasing dependence of Europe on supplies from America is also a striking feature of the comparison, as is the continuation of the relatively decreasing importance of France in the markets of this group.
Turning now to the selected extra-European countries, the previous table is continued as follows:
IMPORTS OF EXTRA-EUROPEAN COUNTRIES.
Percentage pro- | Percentage pro-Percentage pro- Percentage proportion of Im- portion of im- portion of Im- portion of Im. ports from the
ports from the United Germany.
France. United States. Kingdom.
1899-91. 1894-96. 1889-91, '1894-96. 1889-91. 1894-96. 1889-91. 1894-96.1889-91. 1894-96.
In certain respects this group contrasts with the former. The imports from Great Britain show a general increase. In the case
of Egypt there is a small falling off in amount, and a considerable decrease of percentage, and in the case of Uruguay a larger decrease of amount but an increase of the percentage. The comparatively small proportion which is shown of imports from the United States is a little remarkable, and so is the decrease in the French trade in each case except that of Egypt. Germany shows progress all along the line, but in amount the increase of imports from the United Kingdom is two-and-a-half times as great as that from Germany. It is worthy of note, too, that this group of countries show a continuous increase in the percentage of their whole imports which they derive from the four specified sources of supply.
In stating the facts for British Colonies and Possessions, the details for the different colonies may be omitted, and a summary of the result given. The contrary holds of this group to what was stated of the preceding group at the end of the last paragraph. In this case, too, the figures for 1889–91 are necessary, not merely for comparison, but because of some revision of the figures which has been made in the meantime in the official returns, and also because a slight change has been made in the arrangement, the Indian figures being assigned, not as previously to the calendar year in which the financial year for Indian accounts ends, but to the year which includes the greater part of that financial year. This point becomes of importance on account of the great influence of falling exchange on the sterling equivalents of the figures.
IMPORTS OF BRITISH COLONIES AND POSSESSIONS.
Total Average Imports Imports from
in Millions of £. United Kingdom.
1889-91. 1894-96. 1889-91. 1894-96. 1889-91. 1894-96. 1889-91. 1894-96.
The trade of Greater Britain has, in the last triennium here dealt with, manifested an extreme of depression. In no year since 1880 has the total of imports stood as low as in 1894, and in 1880 the imports recorded as from Great Britain were
No. 34—VOL. IX.