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leisure. But now the other side of the question: was the United Kingdom, in spite of the fact that she was thoroughly grateful for this preferential treatment of her goods in the Dominion markets at the time when American and German competition was becoming a burden to her (1) going to discard her policy of free trade which had became firmly entrenched since Gladstone's famous budget of 1860? Was she going to grant preferences to colonial produce? By no means, and Joseph Chamberlain, arguing with all the power there was in him, could not even convert his own party, and with the advent of the Asquith Liberal ministry, in 1905, his plan was doomed for the time being.
There were other difficulties in the way of a uniform imperial preferential tariff. The most-favoured-nation treaties of 1862 and of 1865, which England had with Belgium and the German Zollverein, stood in the way of such an imperial preferential scheme, and England denounced these treaties in 1897. (2). The preferential treatment, moreover, was against
1. Egerton: British Colonial Policy, p. 515.
Note: The second resolution passed at the Ottawa Conference of 1894, reads: “This Conference is of opinion, that any provisions in existing treaties between Great Britain and any Foreign power, which prevent the self-governing dependencies of the Empire from entering into agreements of commercial reciprocity with each other or with Great Britain, should be removed.
The treaties referred to were those with Belgium and Germany, which had been understood to prevent any such agreements between the colonies.
The third resolution embraced the subject of preference, and was as follows:
"Whereas the stability and progress of the British Empire can be best assured by drawing continually closer the bonds, that unite the colonies with the mother country, and by the continuous growth of a practical sympathy and co-operation in all that pertains to the common welfare:
And, whereas this co-operation and unity can in no way be more effectually promoted than by the cultivation and extension of mutual and profitable interchange of their products:
Therefore resolved: That this Conference records its belief in the advisability of a customs arrangement between Great Britain and her colonies, by which trade within the Empire may be placed on a more favourable footing than that which is carried on with foreign countries. (Continued at foot of p. 112).
the protectionistic interests of the colonists. Every colony was and is striving to become as independent as possible in the manufacturing industries. The encouragement given to the production of raw materials under the new scheme would divert the attention of the colonists from manufactures, where they would not be able to stand against their English competitors, and a certain writer said that there would be the tendency for the colonies to become the “hewers of wood and drawers of water” of the British manufacturer. Then there is the difficulty of drawing up a uniform tariff for such an Imperial Zollverein. The interests of all the colonies are not alike some want this industry protected, while another wants another industry protected. Then also the revenual needs of the different British possessions differ. (1). One colony desires direct taxation to a greater or lesser extent, while another favours indirect taxation. The local conditions will have to determine which articles are to be taxed, and which not. (2). There were also some difficulties in the way of intercolonial differential treatment with regards to the Australian colonies. They could have inter-colonial differential treatment in Australia only — by the Customs Act of 1873 — but could not grant such to Canada or the Cape. This was removed in 1895 by the Australian Colonies Duties Act. (3).
Another serious difficulty with this mutual preferential scheme, which was definitely begun at the Conference at Ottawa in 1894, when, as noted above, it was resolved that “this Conference records its belief in the advisability of a customs arrangement between Great Britain and her colonies by which trade within the Empire may be placed on a more favourable footing than that which is carried on with foreign countries... and that it is desirable that, when empowered so
1. Cf. the difficulties in the way of the French policy of “tariff assimilation" in Girault: The Colonial Tariff Policy of France.
2. See Rawson: Tariffs and Trade of the British Empire, pp. 22 and 23.
3. See Egerton: History of British Colonial Policy, p. 454.
Further resolved: That until the mother country can see her way to enter into customs arrangements with her colonies, it is desirable that, when empowered so to do, the colonies of Great Britain, or such of them as may be disposed to accede to this view, take steps to place each other's products in whole or in part on a more favoured customs basis than is accorded to the like products of foreign countries."
to do, the colonies of Great Britain... take steps to place each other's products... on a more favourable customs basis than is accorded to the like products of foreign countries,” (1), is, that “the value to the dominions of any preferences accorded by England must be exceedingly unequal. Canada, the richest, must gain most; the value to South Africa upon such exports. as she sends, must be inconsiderable." (2).
However, at the Inter-Colonial Conference meeting at Bloemfontein, on March 10, 1903, and signed on May 6, 12, 25 and June 3, 1903, preferential treatment was accorded to British goods and goods from reciprocating British colonies. It was the first general South African Customs Union (3) between the Cape, Natal, Transvaal, the Orange River Colony, and Southern Rhodesia. It was not a product of parliamentary enactment. A customs conference was called together, and very important things decided there. There was, it is true, no united parliament in existence then which could speak for public opinion throughout South Africa as a whole, and it was no doubt decidedly necessary to come to some sort of general understanding after everything had been perverted by the war; but what parliamentary government there was, ought to have been respected more than was done. But now, all obstacles had been forcibly removed, and with Chamberlain in South Africa to guide him, Milner played his rôle freely and without obstruction. He achieved commercial union which was desired, as well as preference which was unpopular. In spite of the fact that the Transvaal was now in, there were still in the Transvaal strong interests against a Customs Union. Sir David Barbour in his report on the finances of the Transvaal and the Free State, dated Bloemfontein, March 29, 1901, says: “But strong objections are entertained in the Transvaal with reference to the tariff in force in the [Customs] Union on. the ground that it favours the rural population at the expense of the urban and mining population, and for other reasons. The objections appear to me to be well-founded and I cannot recommend that the Transvaal should join the Customs Union at the present time." He was undoubtedly influenced by free trade views and a wish to reduce the cost of gold production to the lowest possible point.
The way in which the Conference was constituted already indicates what the natural result was going to be. And yet Mr. Jebb comments that the preference created by this Con-,
1. See Egerton: History of British Colonial Policy, p. 453.
ference was “kept outside of party politics.” (1). With Milner presiding at the Conference, and with Chamberlain in South Africa just a few weeks before it met, and with such an unrepresentative body of delegates among whom the Boer element was practically speaking, unrepresented, it is no wonder that preference was accepted. (2). Then there was at this time shortly after the war — a violent agitation among the English business men in South Africa for granting preference on British goods. Mr. Whitten, who was sent to South Africa just after the war or when it was still going on — – to report on the soft goods trade in South Africa, tells how he visited the store of his friend, a trader in Johannesburg, and how his friend spoke strongly in favour of imperial federation and a preferential duty in favour of British goods. “He spoke very strongly and said the whole trade was unanimous in desiring a preferential tariff on British goods... “Tell your manufacturers'," his friend said, “they must keep wide awake and not let the foreigner take another inch of ground, or he will soon want more and get it'."
He continues: “I discussed with these gentlemen (the traders of Johannesburg] the question of imperial federation and of a preferential duty... I found them unanimous in support of federation with all our colonies, and strongly in favour of a preferential duty in favour of Great Britain to check the importation into South Africa of foreign made goods, which are everywhere considered as much inferior to our own, excepting in certain special cases... Should Viscount Milner favour a readjustment of the customs tariff I am sure he will receive strong support in favour of preferential duties in relation to
1. See Jebb: Colonial Conference, Volume ii, p. 212. See his “Report on the Soft Goods Trade in South Africa,” p. 24.
2. Delegates to the Inter-Colonial Conference: Cape Colony: Sir G. Sprigg, Mr. T. B. King, Mr. J. C. Molteno, Mr. W. Macintosch, Mr. L. Wiener.
Natal: Sir A. Himer, Mr. F. R. Moor, Mr. J. Hyslop, Sir J. Hulett, Mr. G. Payne.
Orange River Colony: Mr. F. H. Wilson, Mr. A. Brown, Mr. J. G. Fraser, Mr. W. Erlich, Mr. P. Blignaut.
For the Transvaal: Sir Godfrey Lagden, Mr. P. Duncan, Sir George Farrar, Mr. W. Hosken, Mr. N. J. Breytenbach.
Rhodesia: Mr. W. H. Milton, Mr. F. J. Newton, Sir Lewis Mitchell, Mr. W. Dempster, Lieut.-Col. Heyman.
President: Viscount Milner.
Great Britain from all commercial men in South Africa... (1). Commercial bodies in South Africa are ready to assist any movement to procure preferential duties in favour of Great Britain.” (2).
Mr. Ben Morgan puts the case in another way: There was. to be no “artificial bolstering up of trade, but a small preferential tariff enough to compensate the Britisher for the advantages which the American has in railway rates and freights, and by being able to send surplus production, and the Germans on account of low freights and railway rates, is desirable, and the feeling throughout the colonies [I suppose he had in mind the British merchants in the big towns] is that something should be arranged. In Cape Colony and Natal I have gained the impression from leading men, that given encouragement by the home government, that these colonies would take the initiative in a scheme in favour of the British trader similar to Canada, but it felt that the Empire is not ready to deal with such a wide question as an Imperial Zollverein.” (3). He continues: “British goods will have a preference because they are 'home' goods... and government departments in South Africa set a good example to local traders. They purchase most of their stores from British merchants. (4).
Jenkin says: “The comfortable feeling that a fine market was being developed for the benefit of British trade gradually gave way to the fear that the market we had retained by an enormous expenditure of blood and treasure was in danger of being lost through superior commercial strategy of foreign nations... (5). I have no doubt but that a small preference in South Africa would improve the manufacturing conditions in England very considerably and enable them to adopt a general system of manufacturing in quantity with the confidence that at the lower prices which they would be able to charge they would find a more ready market.” (6).
Mr Ransome pointed out that agricultural plant was the section under which the British manufacturer showed to least advantage in 1900. The imports then stood as follows:
1. Whitten, p. 27.
3. Ben Morgan: Report of the Engineering Trades of South Africa, p. 13.
4. Ibid., p. 10.