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BRITISH AND COLONIAL TRADE., Issue 10468, 11 November 1897
BRITISH AND COLONIAL TRADE.
Is order to ascertain the true position of affairs in regard to foreign competition in the trade of the British Empire the Secretary of State for the Colonies in November, 1895, addressed a despatch to the Governors of colonies on the question of trade with the United Kingdom. “I “am impressed," he said, “ with the ex- “ treme importance of securing as large a “ share as possible of the natural trade of “the United Kingdom and the colo“nies for British producers and manu“facturers, whether located in ' the “ colonies or in the United Kingdom.” The despatch then proceeds to set forth in close detail the information with which he desired to bo supplied. The request of Mr Chamberlain l was cordially acceded to, and replies were received from thirty-, one "colonies. These have been published in a huge Blue Book, and submitted to the Imperial Parliament with an introductory memorandum by Mr Charles Alexander Harris, one of the first class clerks in the Colonial Office.
Mr Harris reviews the causes—alleged or true—of the displacement of British goods in the colonies. In the first place, he says, geographical proximity naturally favors intercourse, and therefore “it is of “primary necessity to he aware of local “ circumstances, and of what may be called “the personal factors of trade, before “investigating the facts of the trade of “any given area.” _ With regard to the attitude of the British manufacturer and trader, cheapness, finish, and suitability cf goods, methods of packing, adaptation to the market, and other matters have, Mr Harris declares, to be closely studied. The information now placed at their disposal should help them, he thinks, to remedy any faults into which they have fallen.
The memorandum makes it very clear that, in regard to trade generally, there is no evidence that Great Britain is suffering. The total figures, it is pointed out, are satisfactory. In 1894 the exports of British produce amounted in value to £215,800,000; in 1895 the value was £225,800,000 ; in 1896, £240,000,000. The colonial trade figures are dealt with separately. There has been a small diminution in the value of British trade extending over, the selected period of twelve years. In 1883-85 the annual average of imports from Great Britain amounted to £62,600,000 ; in 1888-90 the annual average was £61,126,000 ; in 1893-95 the average was £58,500,000. The imports from British possessions have altered during the same period from an average of £38,000,000 to £42,800,000 ; and the annual average imports from foreign countries to the colonies are thus stated: 1883 - 85, £38,100,000 ; 1888 - 90, £37,900,000 1893-95, £42,000,000. Imports to the colonies from Great Britain, it is noted, have not continued on the down grade. Bottom was touched in 1894, when ’the total was £53,700,000 ; whilst in 1895 it had risen to nearly £60,000,000, and since then British trade has been in the ascendant. In 1885 the colonies "apparently took 26 per cent, of their goods from foreign countries, and in 1895 32 per cent. The causes assigned for the dif- ■ feronco are duly set forth in the memorandum. The first is stated as follows : “A considerable proportion of the ap- “ parent increase iu foreign impor- “ tations is attributed iu most of the “colonies to the effect of the Merchandise Marks Act. The obligation “to mark foreign goods with the name “of - the producing country has made “colonial customers aware that these “ goods were of foreign and not of British “ make, and they have begun to ship them “ direct from foreign ports.” Other operative causes, according to Mr Habris, have been the depression in the colonies, which led to a demand for cheap and inferior shoddy goods such as Great Britain does not produce. The increase in wages in Great Britain and the shortening of the hours of labor tell against her in competition with the cheaper labor and longer hours of her rivals. The fact is that the British manufacturer, consequent on his long prosperity, is not so pushing as his rivals. The general conclusions drawn by Mr Harris are, on the whole, reassuring. He. expresses the conviction that tho British manufacturer is still supreme in the capacity, to put the best possible article on tho market, while at the same time ho declares that “ a great “portion of the general colonial market is “ not a market for the best class of goods, “ and in proportion as cheap and studied “ imitations of such goods can be put on “ the market the trade will go away to the “producers of such imitations.” This is precisely, he says, “where the foreign manufacturer is coming in,” with the very reasonable possibility that in obtaining a largo trade in cheap goods he may eventually obtain a certain proportion of the better class of trade. The publication of the memorandum by Mr Harris, summarising the replies of the colonies to Mr Chamberlain’s despatch and commenting thereupon, evoked from representatives of the manufacturing interests communications to ‘ The Times ’ (London) which are distinctly interesting. In regard to the samples of foreign goods imported into the colonies, the head of an eminent English firm thus expresses himself , What we are surprised at is that the demand for goods made of such rubbish can be maintained, as, although the price is low, to the wearer they must be expensive. The first impression that they made upon my mind is that I should be sorry if British manufacturers turned out such stuff. I am fully convinced that the quality is such that no manufacturer of repute here would care to share in such a trade, and certainly I am not inclined to blame him. No doubt the establishment of factories for turning out “shoddy” would increase the volume' of British trade in some markets, but whether this would tend to the ultimate advantage and reputation of British industry is a debatable point. Most of the samples shown are of the very cheapest it is possible to make, and can only be made in the sweating dens of the East End or similar places, where no stated wage exists. Another correspondent, after inspeoting samples of these impfirts, writes : T was hardly prepared to find such utter rubbish as was presented in your collection. Of course, the articles now on show are good for the price, but will not compare with the uniform excellence of English-made goods. If buyers are satisfied, we must climb down to the foreign standard in order to enter the field successfully. In regard to the allegation that the British merchant does not adapt himself to the requirements of colonial customers, “ A Merchant” declares that the accusation is unjust, and that, given the same conditions, “jve can hold our own against Europe and North America.” He proceeds to say . It would be folly for English manufacturers to suppose that they can monopolise the trade for high-class goods while the foreigner is content with the cheap grades. The English must compete for all classes of trade, and to do
this they ahou’d ,bs shown samples of good as -Wju as cheap goods, Britannia metal spoons were made in large quantities, and the trade at one time was entirely in the hands of the Sheffield manufacturers, hut in consequence of their obstinacy in refusing to draw an iron wire through the handle this trade has been entirely lost to this country. R tbe English export trade has not improved these last few years as with some of our neighbors, the great fault lies with our manufacturers themselves, who do not take sufficient interest in studying the requirements of foreign markets.
A-great many manufacturers, in my humble opinion, are not sufficiently educated for the shipping trade, often producing goods very different to contracts, that afterwards they are amazed when differences are pointed out to them and goo'is sometimes rejected*
BRITISH AND COLONIAL TRADE., Issue 10468, 11 November 1897
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