Изображения страниц

evil from the forcible interference with the natural course of trade. To revert to our former supposition; if the French silks, after a long prohibition, were suddenly admitted, without restriction in respect to quantity, it is clear that British capital of the value of 1,000,000l. would be rendered temporarily useless, and must be transferred to other employments, before it could be rendered serviceable for the purposes of production. But a sudden transfer of a large amount of capital is attended with great and inevitable loss to the proprietors: the persons employed by it are unable at a short notice to apply their labour to other trades; they may want the requisite skill, and opportunities may not occur. 'This effect of the repeal of injurious systems of prohibition has been urged by many as conclusive, with regard to all attempts at abolishing them; the evil it has been said is certain, the advantage doubtful. But the objection is pushed too far: the evil contingent on a sudden abrogation of such systems is no proof that they should never be changed; it only proves the necessity of caution in effecting the alteration, a necessity not more obvious in this, than in other instances, wherever established interests' are submitted to the hand of reform. The species of caution which is called for in commercial reforms relates chiefly to the time allowed for their accomplishment. We have been taught by such multiplied experience, that a gradual change is commonly meant by politicians to cloak the design of no change at all, that the phrase has justly grown into disrepute; but a gradual reform, in commerce, is, for the most part, the reform to be desired. An interval must be secured for the parties, the labourer and the capitalist for the labourer, that he may turn his hand to a new employment; for the capitalist, that he may choose an opportunity for transferring his stock. Time, however, is all that can be demanded; every thing beyond is a boon granted to the individual, at the expense of the community.

Such, then, are the consequences of a restrictive system of trade: a system which prevents those countries, which are submitted to its influence, from enjoying the full measure of productiveness, which their separate advantages might be made to yield; which divides the community of each country into two classes, the con

sumer and the monopolist, each interested in the other's loss; a system, which bolsters up a bad principle with an infinitely vexatious detail of duties, drawbacks, and prohibitions, and, what is worst of all, which is established to the advantage of nobody, and the disadvantage of almost all the world. Bad as this system is, it has hitherto prevailed in almost every department of British commerce; it has eminently governed the colonial policy of our country, and in our opinion, as well as in the opinion of almost all who are compe tent judges, its effects on that branch of trade have corresponded with the badness of its principle. It has now, more espe cially with respect to the West Indies, struck root so deeply, the sinister interests it has given birth to are so firmly established, that, however obvious its bad effects may be, there is no department of our commerce, with the single exception of the corn trade, in which every proposition for reform is encountered by a more strenuous opposition.

But, however vehement the struggles of the West India interest for the preservation of their exclusive privileges; there is perhaps no instance of monopoly of less utility to those, for whose protection it is supposed to exist, or more susceptible of speedy and uninjurious alteration. We propose to shew the truth of this remark, by a rapid review of the extent and nature of the protection afforded to their principal export.

The West India interest demands, and has long enjoyed, the right of supplying the home market with their peculiar produce; to the exclusion, if necessary, of the produce of all other countries. This pri vilege has been secured to them by an absolute prohibition of the produce of inany parts of the world, and by the imposition of higher duties on that of others, and more particularly of the East Indies, than are levied on their own. In conse quence of their carrying trade being limited to British shipping, they have been further favoured with certain drawbacks on such of their produce as is re-exported from the ports of Great Britain. On West India sugar the duty is 27. per cwt.; on East India 37s.: the duty on West India coffee is 6d. per !b. ; on East India 9d.* But this is not all: on the exportation of West India refined sugar not

• Vide Hume's Custom Laws, pp. 248, 281.

only is the duty returned, but an actual bounty is paid, amounting to 3s. per cwt.* As these bounties are not merely nominal, since large quantities of sugar (the staple production of those colonies) are annually re-exported, exceeding one million sterling in value according to the official rate of valuationt, it will be readily perceived that the present consideration is one of paramount importance. The West India sugar re-exported for the foreign market is exposed to the competition of the East India growers, and is nevertheless disposed of to the great amount we have mentioned. Hence it appears that West India sugar, though charged with the additional expense of its transit through this country, is enabled, by a bounty of only 3s. per cwt., to compete with the produce of the East Indies. Whether this 3s. more than covers the cost of the extra transit through the ports of this country, or not, we cannot venture to determine; that question will be practically settled by the operation of Mr. Huskisson's bill, by which, under certain restrictions, a direct traffic is permitted to be carried on between our West India colonies and the continent. But the fact is amply sufficient to prove that the present inequality between the cost of growing sugar in the East and West Indies is not so greatly in favour of the former, if, indeed, it be in their favour at all, as the terror of the West India proprietors has induced them to believe. Precisely the same reasons may be urged, to shew that the dread of competition from the same quarter, in the British market, is no less unfounded; and, pushing our conclusions onward another step, we feel no difficulty in deciding, that the duties on East and West India sugar should be equalized at the present moment-a moment peculiarly auspicious, since justice may be done to the community, and, in the long run, advantage conferred on the West India proprietor, without inflicting any instant evil, which seems worthy to be taken into account. A great step might thus be made towards opening the colonial trade: by widening the field of supply, a greater tendency would arise towards the equali

Vide Hume's Custom Laws, p. 333.-A higher bounty is paid on some sorts of extra-refined sugar, amounting to 19s. per cwt.; but as sugar loses weight in the process of refinement, it is not easy to ascertain what part of this sum constitutes a bounty.

Finance Accounts for the year ending Jan.

1825, page 295.

zation of prices between the growths of all the sugar countries; and thus, beginning with the East Indies, we might end, by a succession of similar measures, by throwing open our market to the world. It has, however, been objected that the present equality of price arises from the demand for sugar exceeding the supply, and that the increasing produce of the East Indies, will shortly enable them to undersell the West India planter. Should this objection be grounded, still we cannot recede from the opinion, that the present is eminently the favourable opportunity for opening the trade: at this time, prices are nearly balanced; the accumulation and investment of capita is a slow process; and before the increased produce of the East Indies can be brought into the market, the West India planter will have had time and opportunity for the gradual transfer of his capital, should that be necessary, to the cultivation of coffee and wheat. If this be deemed a hardship, it is one which cannot be relieved by Government, without inflicting a greater injury on the community, than would be averted from the planter. He complains of being gradually reduced to employ his capital in a less profitable species of production; but when it is considered that the higher profit is obtained from a forced overcharge on the consumer, it seems to us that the legitimate objects of commerce are obtained, and justice satisfied, if all possible facilities be afforded, whether by granting time, or otherwise, for effecting the transfer.

We may here stop to observe that, in the midst of this outcry in defence of the West India interest against the growers in the East, and the consumers at home, the interests of the inhabitants of our East India possessions are scarcely noticed. Injustice and inconsiderateness of the Government and the British people are spoken of as being solely exercised to the injury of the West India colonist. But is all the injustice on one side? Have the East Indians undergone no hardships, and are their interests of no account in the detail of our commercial policy? Have they suffered from no transfer of capital? and have they been deprived of no favourite branch of commerce? What has become of their cotton manufacture? The machinery of Great Britain has enabled her to arrive at the extraordinary result of competing with the East India manu

facturer in his own market, and in his to admit a free intercourse between all

our colonies and other countries, for the importation of every produce or manufacture of such countries, and the exportation of all colonial produce in return. The principle of this measure, we shall not attempt to question; it cannot be questioned by any man, who admits the theory of free trade. But the principle is clogged with a proviso "that the im"portation of foreign goods into the co"lonies shall be made subject to such mo

own staple production, notwithstanding the double carriage, and the extreme cheapness of Eastern labour: manufactured cottons, of the value of one million sterling, are annually exported to the spot where the raw cotton is grown, and this branch of manufacture, which was the great source of employment of the East India labourers, is now nearly destroyed: but as their interests are a subject of no concern with any class in the possession of power, their complaints were not heard," derate duties," in the West India ports, or, if heard, were utterly disregarded.- as may be found sufficient for the It is reserved for the influential pro-" fair protection of British productions of prietary of the West Indies to force their "like nature." remonstrances upon the public; and the bare apprehension, on their part, of en- } countering competition, attracts more attention in the legislature, than the complaints of the East India manufacturer, when bis market was destroyed.

To return to the West India colonies. Such being the nature, and so small the real efficacy of the protection afforded to those colonies by the monopoly of the British market; it seems difficult to deny the expediency of withdrawing it altogether, within a very limited period of time. This, however, formed no part of Mr. Huskisson's measure; nor do we venture to blame an omission, which was probably not so much the effect of choice, as of necessity. The clamour excited by the proposal for equalizing the duties between the West India and Mauritius' sugarsa mere straw thrown up, to show which way the wind blew-gave sufficient indication of the species of opposition to be expected to any attempt upon the vested rights of the West Indians. It was probably deemed more prudent to begin by concessions to the colonies; a mode of operation against which no objection can be raised, as we confer the benefit without loss or danger to ourselves.


The latter part of this proviso is so incongruous with the plan of a free intercourse, that we no longer recognize the principle on which the measure appeared to be grounded. The system seems to be built on the mongrel idea of combining protection to the home trade with the liberty of importing foreign goods into the colonies. Whether this be possible at all, or at any rate in the manner proposed, will appear from an analysis of the effect of a duty on the impor tation of foreign commodities.

The operation of such a duty must be, 1st, either wholly to exclude the foreign commodity; or, 2nd, to admit it, to the exclusion of the home produce; or, 3d, to admit both, on terms of equal competition.

We will begin with the last of these cases. Supposing the duty to be so accurately adjusted as exactly to balance the superior facilities possessed by the foreign trader in the production of his article, that it shall come into the market at the same price as the commodity produced at home; it may appear, at first sight, that the foreign and home trader would exactly divide the market: since it would be indifferent to the consumer from which of the two he purHitherto our views have been confined chased, when both sold at the same price. to the principle (for we readily give him That, however, would not be the fact. credit for acting on one) of Mr. Hus- A duty so imposed, is tantamount to an kisson's measures;-the leading idea entire prohibition of the foreign article. which has guided his past policy, aud If, under these circumstances, the foreigner which should direct his future operations should divide the market, it must be at with respect to our colonial trade. We the expense of the home trader's custom, are now to consider the practical speci- who would, in consequence, be commen of his system, exhibited in the act pelled to withdraw half his capital from of last session, and its probable results. the trade. This, however, would not The career of free trade with the colo-occur; since the only reason which nies is begun by an act of concession. could induce the home trader to withIt is proposed (with certain exceptions) draw any portion of his capital, must be

must relinquish his business; if he do not, he will not enter the market at all.

the occurrence of a glut in the market, in consequence of which, the price of the commodity would fall below the cost of To apply this principle to the present production, and the average profits of case.-Mr. Huskisson, by his proviso, stock would no longer be obtained in must intend one of three things-inthat branch of trade. But this occurrence crease of revenue; protection to English is excluded by the supposition. By the manufactures; or relief to the colonies. imposition of the importation duty, the Increase of the revenue is professedly no total charges on the foreign trader in pro- part of the present plan. We have shewn ducing his commodity are equalized with that protection to the British manufacturer, those of the home producer. He can- is, in fact, exclusion of foreign goods; and not, therefore, sell at a lower price; he is that is precisely the reverse of Mr. Husprevented from glutting the market: the kisson's avowed intentions. The oper same motives, in short, which would ation of this part of the measure will dealone induce the home trader to withdraw pend, therefore, on the amount of duties any portion of his capital from the par-imposed on the importation of foreign ticular employment in question, would goods into the West India ports. prevent the foreigner from entering into a the duties protect the British manufac competition, which could only be in- turer, the measure will be nugatory; if jurious to both. Such a duty, then, though not, it will effectually relieve the colonies a duty in name, is in fact a prohibition. to the extent of its provisions. We trust, There is no difference in the result however, that the majority of the duties between such a duty and one conceived in will not have the effect of protecting the the terms of the first case ;-a duty, that is British manufacturer: this, being a pure to say, imposed with a view to the direct matter of detail, it is not within our comexclusion of foreign produce. petency to determine; but we hope, with Mr. Huskisson, that his regulations will prove beneficial to the West India planters, and we shall not fail to ask in return, their consent to a more equal apportionment of duty on East and West India produce, for the benefit of the British nation.


We will now take the remaining casethat in which the duty on the foreign article is so diminished as to enable the foreigner to compete with the home trader, by underselling him; the only mode in which such a competition can exist. What is the consequence? The imported article will forthwith be brought We are willing to make large allowinto the market, and sold at a perma- ances for the difficulty of Mr. Huskisson's nently diminished price; and as there situation; we would not, to use the cannot exist two prices for the same good-humoured remark of the Chancellor commodity in the same market, the home of the Exchequer, "ride the willing horse producer will be altogether excluded, and too hard." With so many of the great must transfer his capital to some other interests of this country, all pressing for trade, unless he can afford to take lower exemption from imaginary dangers, on profits than before. That, however, will his arm, we doubt not that Mr. Huskisson not be in his power, unless he were pre- has a difficult game to play. To these viously obtaining more than the ordinary embarrassments we readily attribute much rate of profit; a circumstance which can of the apparent inconsistency of his meano where occur for any length of time, sures: but we lament that such should and which assuredly has not been the be the influence of the manufacturers, case in our mercantile traffic with the or the weakness of the administration, West Indies. The conclusion is (and it that this measure for colonial relief, admits but of little qualification), that should be enervated or encumbered with with respect to the trade in manufactured the schedule of protecting duties; more produce for we must except the produce especially in the face of considerations of the soil, which is regulated by different which could only be overlooked or unlaws there is only a choice of alter-appreciated in the panic engendered by natives; a choice between absolute free- sinister interests. dom and absolute prohibition. Either the foreigner will undersell the home trader, or he will not: if he under-ell him, it matters not how much, the home trader

Granting even that certain foreign goods may be justly excluded from the ports of the United Kingdom, for the protection of domestic manufactures;

been called "the fallacy of false consola"tions," Mr. Huskisson would persuade the colonists that the situation of Great Britain forms a maximum of felicity, which other countries cannot reasonably wish to exceed.

these colonies forns small a portion only thing that can be said to the purof the market for British goods, that the pose, must be kept in the back ground. admission of foreign competition there, In reply, then, to the objection, he obwould scarcely be perceived at home, served, that "if he placed the colonies however ruinous it might prove if extended" on a footing with the United Kingdom, to the kingdom at large. The injury" he saw no fair ground for complaint." which the British manufacturer would By this sleight of tongue, which has sustain from a removal of all restriction on the intercourse of the colonies with foreign countries, is a groundless exaggeration of panic terror, equally in defiance of principle and experience. The emancipated nations both of North and South America derive the great mass of their im ports from Great Britain, where they obtain them at the cheapest rate; and so ong as Great Britain shall be able to sell them her manufactures cheap-the only lasting or legitimate monopoly-so long will she continue to supply them. But the condition of the West India colonies is the same as that of the continents of America: a restriction, therefore, on the importation of foreign articles into the colonial ports, in favour of our own manufacture, is principally nominal, and a removal of it would but slightly alter the established course of trade. If the restrictions have any effect, it can only be to the detriment of the colonies; and it is not easy to put a case in which they can be made to suffer, which will not ultimately affect the mother country. In this respect we agree with Mr. Huskisson; who observed, that he "came clearly to the conclusion, that so "far as the colonies themselves were concerned, their prosperity was cramped and impeded by the old system of ex"clusion and monopoly; and he felt him"self equally warranted in his next "inference, that whatever tended to "increase the prosperity of the colonies, "could not fail in the long run to ad“vanée, in an equal degree, the general "interests of the parent state*."

In spite, however, of this deliberate observation, when it was afterwards objected to Mr. Huskisson, that the schedule of duties appended to his measure was at variance with the principle he professed to act upon, what was his reply? We will not charge him with deliberately entertaining the opinion it conveys; but we cannot help quoting his answer, as a specimen of the parliamentary method of substituting words for ideas, where something must be said, but where the

*Ante, p. 288.

We shall not enter into that question here, which, indeed, we are glad to believe is now a work of supererogationt. We shall be satisfied with observing, that the situations of the colonies and Great Britain is not the same. It is true, that foreign manufactures are excluded from the ports of both by duties of the same kind; but the effect, however similar in appearance, is widely different in fact. Were the ports of this great manufacturing country thrown open to those foreign goods, in which she principally abounds, none would be imported; by her capability of underselling the foreign producer her inhabitants would still have an unlimited supply, at a price unincreased by any duty. The West India colonies, on the contrary, are destitute of manufac tures. Such as they stand in need of, they import from Great Britain ;.or now, we suppose, in some instances, from foreign countries: but in both cases charged with duty .

Here then is the distinction: so far as it affects the British consumer, the duty is nugatory; in the colonies it is paid to the last penny.

But there is a further qualification of this part of Mr. Huskisson's bill, which affects us with inore surprise; inasmuch as it can only be imputed to mistaken views of the subject, or to the influence of a low national jealousy, of which the existence could not have been suspected in the minds of those distinguished persons who control the finances and commerce of our country.

The first measure of the present ministers towards the emancipation of the colonial trade was followed by one of an opposite tendency from the American Government, sufficiently foolish in itself, * Ante, p. 294. ↑ Ante, p. 15. + Vide Hume's Custom Laws, pp. 303, 304. S Geo. IV. c. 44 and 45.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »