TRADE WITH FIJI
ALLEGED SHIPITNG. COMBINATION. INCREASES NOT JUSTIFIED. A BLUNT OFFICIAL RETORT. The Suva correspondent of the Sydney 1 Daily Telegraph' supplies the following interesting excerpts from the report of » Commission appointed to inquire into the shipping conditions and facilities of Fiji. Tho report commences by setting out that most of the shipping dealing with the oversea*, trade is in the hands of the Union Steam Ship Company and the Australasian United Steam Navigation Company, Limited. In addition to the work done by the steamers of theso companies, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company have a steamer of 6.500 tons. "It is noteworthy," goes on the report, " that these two companies, tho Union Company and the A.U.S.N. Company, virtually have a monopoly of the oversea, trade." Following are a few extracts from the report: The imports and exports of the colony have practically doubled during the last ten yeare, and tho two companies have mado every attempt to cope with the trade. So far as the service itself is concerned, wo have received few complaints. It is clear, however, that the two companies work in combination, and not in competition, and that by means of that combination and by methods that in some instances do not redound to their j credit, they have acquired a monopoly enabling them to maintain a 6calo of I freights and fares that we consider unrea sonablo.
We have examined the figures and statements put forward by the companies as to the extra cost involved by Teason of the imposition of quarantine, and we are satisfied that the increases were not justified by the circumstances which were said to be responsible for them. Since the Commission were appointed the Union Steam Ship Company and the Australasian United Steam Navigation Company appear to have discovered that their vessels have been running at a loss. We gave tne managers at Fiji every opportunity to produce their books and * accounts. "We also allowed them three months within which to collect all the- necessary information from thoir head offices. " Each company brought forward a report from a firm of auditors, but neither of them produced the books or accounts from which the reports were compiled. The reports wore made after the appointment of this Commission, and as an answer to criticism of the high freights. It has not come to our notice that on any occasion either of the two companies made any complaints of losses prior to the sitting of tho Commission, nor did Kir James Mills, of the Union Steam
Ship Company, on his visit to Fiji in 1912, speak of the trade in Fiji iw anything but eulogistic terms. We regard the. present scale of fares and freights as unreasonable in comparison with the fares and freights elsewhere, and as clue entirely to the care-fully-devised stifling of competition by the"two companies. The fares for passengers appear to us to bo too heavy. The evidence before us was to the effect that the charges for the freight of banana* were excessive and prohibitive. We had evidence before us that freight on bananas from Fiji to Auckland is about 50 per cent, more than the freight from Tahiti to Auckland by the Union Steam Ship Company, although the distance is only about" half. The banana industry at present is entirely _ at the mercy of the shipping companies, and banana planters say that the industry cannot possibly stand the high charges. The weapon need by the companies to exclude opposition is the free and ruthless use of the deferred Tebate system.
It is clear that the companies have an arrangement, strictly unwritten, with all shippers who 6hip "5s worth of freight to give them a rebate of 15 per cent, on the freights, provided that the shippers confine their shipments to the vessels of the two companies. So far as we can ascertain, no preference is given to one shipper over another. The rebate system formerly was in operation in Australia and New Zealand, and became so oppressive that legislation was directed against it. We are of the opinion that tho Government of this colony should at once
introduce legislation on the lines of the legislation of Australia and New Zealand, declaring rebates illegal, and providing heavy fines for infringement of the law. At the same time, we» desire that a copy of this Teport and its annexure& be transmitted! to the Governments of Australia and New Zealand for any action they may desire to take in the matter. Recommendations were made by the Commission that all the present subsidies ba terminated, that £5,000 be paid annually for a direct service with England, and that the same amount be spent on an intcrinsular service.
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TRADE WITH FIJI, Evening Star, Issue 15676, 15 December 1914