The Struggle for Imperial Preferential Trade, 1887-1917, with Particular Reference to New Zealand
The years 1887-1917 were years of continuous efforts to reconcile seeming irreconcilables in the economic sphere of relations between Great Britain and those of her self-governing colonies who were rapidly attaining to nationhood: Canada, the Australian and South African colonies, and New Zealand. Simply stated the problem on the one side was how the Mother Country could satisfy the demands of these colonies for some preference to their exports, when to do so would involve her in a fiscal revolution. She stood firmly, with almost religious fervour by the tenets of free trade, and to advocate any radical change would be a policy of political suicide for any party which adopted it as its platform. At the time she was the leader of the world's commerce, a fact that she attributed to the very free trade policy which the colonies would overthrow. From the colonial point of view, the problem was to meet what appeared to them, a growing threat to their own exports by those foreign powers, mainly Germany and America, who through a policy of protection were keeping British products out of their own markets, and who through subsidies and differential rates were able to undersell the colonies on the Home market. These same foreign powers, in spite of colonial protective tariffs, were able to compete with the small local industries, and in many cases could undersell the the produce of the Mother Country in the colonies. The answer which the colonies seized eagerly upon and fought so long and strenuously for, was an imperial preferential trade. Immediately, however, they were faced with the fact that the portion of the Empire most concerned, namely Britain, refused to change her fiscal system for a policy which she considered unnecessary and inimical to her own interests.