The Minister for Customs, the Hon. W. Nash, in his explanation of the system of import licensing, has said that applications for licences must be made to the Collector of Customs, at the proposed port of entry. There is no indication in his statement that this procedure is a provisional one only, and none is given of the authority by whom the applications will be considered and dealt with. It may be presumed, therefore, that the Minister regards this procedure as permanent and that the authority will be the’ Customs Department. The presumption is disturbing. It is obvious that the control so suddenly set up signifies the subjection of the Dominion’s import trade both to quantitative limits and to selective limits. Moreover, Mr Nash has implied ancf the Prime' Minister has expressly stated that the Government is not resorting to a temporary expedient but establishing a' policy. It follows . that tbf nature of. the machinery and the authority under which it is placed become much more important than if the normal operations of trade were merely being suspended and were sooner or later—and soon rather than late—to be resumed. Unless the Government is still to announce changes of plan, the information so far given means that the Customs Department will determine the quantities and classes of goods that may be imported from time to time and distribute the trade in them, under licence, in such proportions and to such individuals or companies as it chooses. It need hardly be said that, while the import licensing system is by definition and in intent an instrument of governmental interference with private trade, this application of it runs almost to the extreme of bureaucratic method and is correspondingly dangerous. It*'is not within the competence of customs officers to make the decisions that will often be necessary under this system; and the power to do it, unchecked, should not be placed in their hands. It is useless to say that they may, and will, be guided by the trade records and figures available. The development of a country’s trade cannot be successfully regulated by deputing customs officers to work proportional sums and create and protect virtual monopolies. Although the fact must be accepted that the Government intends to fix the volume and value and variety of the Dominion’s annual imports, it is undesirable that these general decisions should be arbitrarily reached and imposed, and it is intolerable that the many other decisions which must follow, in administration, should be imposed by an unqualified and unchecked bureaucracy. The possibilities of applying the licensing system more efficiently, less arbitrarily, and less dangerously are various: it is sufficient to urge that they should be examined and developed. Finally, this warning consideration must be presented. The administrative system
which (it seems) is proposed threatens to work so awkwardly that the early suggestion of reform from within it may be looked for; and it will be a reform nearer to the absolute bureaucratic pattern than further , away from it. The step to bulk import purchases by the State and distribution by the State—whether as wholesaler or as retailer—is a short one; and if bureaucracy is installed in fjull command of the licensing system at the outset, it will not be long in seeing this as the next and the necessary step.
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Controlled Imports, Press, Volume LXXIV, Issue 22579, 8 December 1938
Controlled Imports Press, Volume LXXIV, Issue 22579, 8 December 1938
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