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(By "Gracchus.")

The Milton Borough Council, in a circular letter to New Zealand Local Bodies, suggests the purchase by the Government of a , mercantile fleet of steamers. The council says that, in view of the excessive cost of exporting the surplus produce of the Dominion, producers should not be entirely at the mercy of shipping combines and kindred monopolies. That such a monopoly does exist readily admitted but everyone will not be agreed as to the means of countering it. Before New Zealand rushed into the enormous expenditure which would be required for a Government mercantiJ' fleet, the Government would doub** inquire fully into the succ ,<4ess otherwise of the Australia st&s or ment, weighting their fit expeiiin allowing for the ab" heavilyj and profits indue*" 1 ,aormaJ prosperity A message fro'- ,a fey war freights, said that '" -*i Melbourne on Tuesday sidered ' circles there contion V «ftStfc fea« report of the Heparaon ..^JPfrfruiftefe at the Peace Conference 4\\i *9stor&fcion of tn® merchant had sounded the death-knell v the Gomimonwealth Government line. If the -*JPlederal Department that dealt with $bis jpubJicly-owned line, issues a true -and Jionest statement (which Gotpea'Oiiinaeiilt Departments, in this country- -ut least, are not fond of doing) ©£ "itiie financial result of this experim#!it, and of the difficulties to be met in public control of such an undertaking, our own 'Government , would have some very valuable data 1 tfor guidance in a similar enterprise.

•Returning to ;the shipping, combines, it is very hard to get a.... true statement of the case in this connection. It was freely stated before and- during the war that as .a result of certain big amalgamations, the control of the British Mercantile Marine lay in the hands of four -big shipping rings. Those who had followed the trend closely, knew- that two of the biggest New Zealand lines had passed under the control of the P. and 0. Company. There was no vigorous protest at the time, although many considered the move inimical to the best interests of New Zealand trade. Just lately we had news from London suggesting the biggest amalgamation of all, that b&r tween the Cunard and P. and O. interests. Both these companies being directly interested in New Zealand trade, it would seem that the White Star was the only big British concern trading here that would not be involved in this latest "merge." It is interesting to note that there has been no further word of the proposed sale to the United' States of the whole of 4 the White Star interest for £20,000,----000. Enough has v been said here to show the very serious, lengths to which shipping combination has reached during recent years. It is only the other day that the freight rings bared their teeth in threatening fashion towards the competition of the Commonwealth Government line. Shippers using this line were directly menaced by discrimination in regard to freight rebates and space in the event of their being users of any of the lines included in the regular companies. So that in short, unless shippers were able to use the Government line exclusively they were faced with very serious loss.

New Zealand is directly dependent for her prosperity on continuous, regular steamship services with the markets of the Northern Hemisphere. Iso-lated-as it is, this Dominion is particularly at the mercy of shipping combines. Many will recall the old days, 20 years ago, when under competitive conditions, it was. possible to book as a passenger to Australia for 10s, and freights were correspondingly low. The reverse is true of shipping freights now, which position haß grown up entirely through the absorption or amalgamation of companies formerly competing against each other. The shipping companies have not forgotten their days of travail and, while we in New Zealand have sat still, they have tied us hand and foot. By the delimitation of trading areas, by the definition of trade routes, the companies may, when and as they like, milk New Zealand of all her profits and take from her any increment from that production and efficiency that is at present the slogan in New Zealand's reconstruction policy. If" any one calls an over statement, let him study 'the map and ask how other than by ocean routes are we to reach our markets. Further) if competition is reduced to a minimum, what is to prevent shipping companies exploiting New Zealand's trade to the utmost ?

This is a question that seems to demand some answer. The Milton Borough Council 'rushes at the time old solution of State Enterprise—one that has been often before, tried and found wanting. The close management and efficient working requisite to compete in a race between these mammoth shipping concerns is not to be found (in the opinion of "Gracchus" at any rate) in a Government Department. Privately owned and efficiently managed by the producers themselves (already banded together in the Dairying Industry, by the way) a New Zealand line would have: its chance of success. It is the producers' interest, it may become their greatest interest in a fight for existence, it should not be left so late as to be hopeless. In Jamaica, the planters have reached this latter stage. Their merchants, docks, steamers, are all tied to the Union Fruit Company, and the planters find themselves in that position where they cannot export their own produce—bananas, cocoa beans, or sugar—but must take it to their only market, the Union Fruit Company be^ cause it controls the only freights available. So the company presents the planters with its own price, just suffix cient (and no more) to pay their producers' coats, and oft6n not sufficient to pay a fair rate of interest on their capital invested—which of course they cannot easily transfer to other uses with the plantations a drug in the market. This is the position as sketched by planters in Jamaica-; the moral need, hardly be stressed New Zealand, like Jamaica, is an island dominion, dependent wholly on ocean transport to reach its markets.

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TRADE AND LABOUR., Ashburton Guardian, Volume XXXIX, Issue 9599, 2 May 1919

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TRADE AND LABOUR. Ashburton Guardian, Volume XXXIX, Issue 9599, 2 May 1919

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