Selective Reading

GERMAN FOREIGN TRADE-Yves Guyot-1906

GERMAN FOREIGN TRADE

Customs statistics worthless up to 1880—Inclusion of the free towns after 1889—Statistics from 1889-1904—Export—Payment of debt—Iron—Imports increase in spite of efforts to restrain them.

Nevertheless a great deal has been made of the industrial development of Germany, and although her imports exceed her exports, those who weigh the balance of commerce are never tired of admiring the increase at each end of the scale; they even go as far as to compare the trade of Germany in 1870 with that of 1904, although since the German Empire only came into existence in 1871 any calculations up to 1880 are quite worthless. Hamburg and Bremen did not enter the Imperial Customs Union (Zollverein) till 1888. Customs statistics before 1888 cannot be compared with that of to-day; those who undertake such a comparison may obtain some very striking percentages, but all their conclusions are nullified by their mistaken premises. Glancing over the statistics for German imports and exports since 1889, we find:—

Year.Imports.Exports.Total.
1889£199,450,000£158,250,000£357,700,000
1892200,950,000147,500,000348,600,000
1895206,050,000165,900,000382,250,000
1896215,035,000176,250,000381,200,000
1897234,050,000181,750,000415,800,000
1898254,050,000187,750,000441,850,000
1899274,150,000210,350,000484,500,000
1900288,750,000230,550,000518,300,000
1901271,500,000221,550,000517,700,000
1902281,550,000233,850,000510,400,000
1903300,150,000250,750,000550,900,000
1904314,550,000258,600,000578,150,000

The increase in exports from 1895 on is due to Caprivi’s policy of commercial treaties, which, however, the Emperor did not hesitate to sacrifice to agrarians. The increase of exports in 1902-3 is not due to prosperity, but to the liquidation of the stock incurred at the time of the crisis of 1902, as the following table of the production and trade in iron proves—(·000 tons):—

Year.Production.Imports.Exports.Excess of Exports
18998,1438461,510670
19008,5209331,549566
19017,8804012,3471,946
19028,4032693,3093,040
190310,0869163,4813,165
190410,1043452,7702,425

EXPORT BOUNTIES AND CARTELS

Bounties in sugars and alcohol—Military organisation of industry—Export bounties to the mining and metal Cartels; an advantage to foreigners—“Giving work to foreign workmen”—“The National System of Political Economy” subordinates German industry to the foreigner and gives him presents—Cartels develop into trusts—Industrial confusion—Constitution of an industrial oligarchy—Ineffectual effort to fix prices—The Campanile of Venice and industry on stilts.

Up to September 1, 1903, there was a bounty on the export of sugar, and alcohol has still a bounty of 81/2d. per gallon. Other bounties were granted by Cartels, associations of producers which marshalled industry under the benevolent eye of the Government, on the military system of the “flogging corporal.” Raffalovich’s recent work on “Trusts and Cartels” gives the truly wonderful results of this system. In 1891 the mine and metal Cartels agreed to give bounties on exportation in order to clear the home market, the amount of the bounty being calculated with reference to the distance of the factory from the frontier; those factories which wished to share in the benefits had to [271] submit their books to the distributing official. In 1901 the mines of the Ruhr were over-productive; the theoretical reduction of output which was 15 per cent. in October, was carried to 20 per cent. It was found necessary to stimulate export, and the Syndicate raised the margin reserved for covering losses on export from 3 per cent. in 1900 to 6 per cent. in 1901-2. The bounty paid by the mines producing more than this specified tonnage and the indemnity allowed to those producing less was raised from 6d. to 1s. Cartels could increase home consumption by lowering prices, but that was not their aim; they reserved all their favours for the foreigner: the price of blast furnace coke was only lowered from 17s. to 15s. a ton, and that of coke from 10s. to 9s. 6d. a ton, although the sales in 1901 were 13 per cent. lower than those in 1900. The coke sold at home at 15s. was sold by the Cartel in France, Luxembourg, and Belgium at 12s. 6d., and a contract has been produced referring to a sale to a factory in Bohemia at 11s.

The panegyrists of the German Cartels would lead one to suppose that they worked in perfect harmony without the slightest friction; as a matter of fact, some of the Cartels tyrannised over those which used their raw materials. In 1899, for example, the Rehmschied canal builders bought sheet-iron at the Essen dock for 200s. per ton, which was sold to a Dutch timber-yard for 180s., and the Manchester cutlers got their iron cheaper than those in Solingen. The Rheinish-Westphalian Cartel sold iron at home for 95s. which they sold abroad for 80s., and 72s. in September, 1902. The English  and Belgian rolling mills fixed their selling price in relation to the lowest cost at which they could get German iron; and the German rolling mills, which exported 60 per cent. of their output, had to sell abroad at this price, although they paid 18 and 20 per cent. more for their raw materials. A Cartel which sells semi-manufactured goods with a bounty to foreigners is robbing the industry of its own country of these goods, and especially in giving labour in proportion to the degree of finish of the product. Far from protecting “national labour,” Cartels give work to foreign workmen.

Here is a striking example of the different phases through which a Cartel may pass: In 1900 the Paper Syndicate raised the price of paper 33 per cent.; this rise naturally produced its normal effect—increased output, creation of new works, installation of new machinery. The competition of factories outside the Syndicate compelled it to lower its output to 45 per cent. The members submitted to this reduction only on condition that it applied solely to the qualities of paper included in their agreement, and then devoted all their energy to the production of the other qualities, the result being over-production. To clear the home market the Syndicate forced exportation; paper was offered abroad at 10 to 15 per cent. reduction; the Hamburg wholesale dealers paid 2d. or 21/4d. for goods that cost the home consumer 21/2d. or 23/4d. Since some of these consumers were manufacturers of paper goods, exporting half their output, their position with regard to foreign competitors was one of marked inferiority.

In September, 1904, the Association for the Defence [273] of Steel Consumers protested against the action of the Syndicate in selling them couplings at 5s. 6d. and plates at 4s. above the selling price in England, and demanded the reduction of the price of partly manufactured steel to 5s. As ground for their refusal the Syndicate alleged the 15s. bounty.

The export bounties made it possible to throw partly-manufactured goods on the foreign market much below the German selling price. Many of these products of German origin, for example coke and iron, enable England to compete with Germany in the market for finished goods, not only abroad but in Germany itself. Hotbed German industries count on getting rid of their surpluses in foreign markets, and are therefore dependent on them. List’s system of national economy subordinates German industry to the foreigner, and gives him presents.

To listen to the admirers of the Cartel system one would imagine that a Cartel has only to establish itself to kill all competition. It has been shown above that it provokes it, and it does so in another way also.

The metal factories wanted to shake off the tyranny of the Mining Cartel: those who were able worked their own mines, and the output from the non-Syndicate mines grew steadily—11,900,000 tons in 1899, it was 12,600,000 in 1900 and 13,100,000 in 1901. Meanwhile, the factories that were subject to the Cartel found themselves at a disadvantage compared to those which provided their own raw material. The heads of the Cartel had, of course, taken care to repeat that they must be distinguished from a Trust, that they would not destroy moderate or small producer; of course the exact reverse is the case. In the Ruhr basin the Coal Syndicate had one competitor, the State coal mines. It carried the subordination of the metal industry to such a pitch that a high-power furnace could only be worked in conjunction with its own coal mine. Having crushed a combined steel factory and rolling mill, they established the principle that every establishment must contain in itself blast furnace and steel manufactory. This is the effect of the trust tyranny, confusing industry instead of specialising it according to the law of the division of labour. Thus, out of nineteen independent businesses at Rote Erde coal mines—blast furnaces and iron mines—sixteen have been absorbed by three companies, Gelsenkirchen, Schalke, and Aachener Hutten.

M. Gothein, a member of the Reichstag, and the Commission on Cartels, declares that the great combinations have crushed the little firms—for example, the rolling mills, which received no benefit from Protection. And yet, he said, no country is capable of producing such cheap coal as Germany. Protection, therefore, does not assure the success of its mining industry, but it does create that industrial oligarchy which ruins the small and middling manufacturer.

According to M. Oppenheimer, English Consul at Stuttgart, “the Syndicate’s price policy is in the interest of capitalists producing their own partly-manufactured goods and owning their own mines and blast furnaces, since, producing his material at a reasonable cost, he can compete favourably in his output of finished goods with those who have to go to the Syndicate for their raw material.” The ideal of all Protectionists is to fix prices; it is one of the objects  of the Cartels; but the price of different mineral products shows that they have not been more successful in attaining this than any other of their objects.

1890. 1894. 1901. 1902.
Puddling Iron 90 45 85 60
Iron Bars 187 95 130 85
Sheet Iron 260 120 200 160
Steel Rails 165 110 120 95
Iron Wire 180 93 150 120

The Syndicate thus failed either to fix prices or keep them to the high standard of 1890.

Protectionists and Socialists agree in denouncing the middleman; the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce, in its Memorandum on Cartels, recognises the value of his services as a buffer between producer and consumer; Cartels try to suppress him or restrain his liberty of action with regard to the price, quantity, and quality of goods. In times of crisis, which the example of Germany proves that they stimulate rather than prevent, Cartels delay the recovery of the market and the re-establishment of equilibrium of supply and demand.
Mr. Chamberlain threatened a downfall for English industry like that of the Campanile in Venice—an inapplicable comparison, for while the fabric of English trade, without Cartels or export bounties, stands firm in a position which can be gauged by the market returns, that of Germany shows cracks, at times like the crisis of 1902-1903, which foreshadow a fate like that of the Campanile for an artificial trade, not resting upon solid foundations, but founded upon piles.

FRANCE AND THE NEW TARIFF

I. The alarmists and the new tariff—Exception of special goods—What we buy from Germany and what we sell to Germany—Difference in price between exported and imported goods—II. Commercial treaties of February, 1905—III. Clause 11 of the Frankfort Treaty—“The vigilant attention of the public authorities.”
In France, of course, there was a great throwing about of ink. The alarmists, always sure of commanding a ready hearing, immediately began to scream like eagles, calling for the vigilance of the public authorities. The German tariff was conceived in the rigid spirit of the Prussian bureaucracy, with the intention of evading some of the consequences of the most favoured nation clause of the Frankfort Treaty, as it affected France, by so raising the Customs tariff as to exclude from the commercial treaties specialities which France sends to Germany. Such measures were certainly not likely to assist the expansion of French trade, but an examination into the nature of our commerce proves that they could [277] have no very far-reaching effect upon it. What do we sell to Germany, and what do we buy from her? Taking Mr. Noel’s report:—

French Exportation to Germany.German Exportation to France.
1901£16,048,600£17,736,000
190216,968,00019,592,000

I admit that these figures do not exactly tally with those of the German Customs tariff returns:—

1902£12,240,000£10,120,000

It would be interesting to be given some explanation by Mr. Noel for his use in a Parliamentary Paper of figures given first by the French and then by the German Customs House.

Confining ourselves to the French Commercial Table, and giving amount as well as price, our imports from Germany fall into nine classes, at more than £600,000 for each class:—

Cwt.£
Machinery603,8001,391,200
Coal34,368,4001,468,000
Paper Goods126,200928,000
Cottons23,000800,000
Chemicals780,000812,000
Jewellery276,000664,000
Skins and Furs87,600640,000
Pottery Glass508,000624,000
Ore21,492,000620,000

Our exports are less concentrated. There are only six classes of goods whose value is above £600,000:  wool and woollen waste, £2,960,000; fur and leather (undressed), £1,200,000; and raw cotton, £600,000.

Over and above the raw materials above there are three classes of characteristically French goods:—

Quantity.Value.
Wines5,588,000 gallons£981,280
Silks5,372 cwt.737,920
Clothes and Underclothes3,196 cwt.758,960

The rest of our exports is composed of small units. Mr. Noel declares, “German competition seriously threatens our charcoal, machinery, paper, books, and engraving.” Since charcoal is a raw material of which our mines cannot supply the necessary quantity, we have no reason to complain of its importation. If machinery is imported it is presumably for use; and if it is imported in spite of duties the probable cause is that those who wish to use it cannot get it in France. As for paper, the Report of the Customs Commissioners declares that the importation of paper is increased 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. by duties in the consuming country. In printing, lithography, and engraving we do not suffer from lack of talent; it must be that what is produced is too expensive, and it is worth while examining the cause of this, which Protectionists neglect to do. We import some £5,000,000 of chemicals and only send Germany £625,000 worth. Germany has certainly made extraordinary progress in an industry for which her industrial skill seems pre-eminently adapted. Utilising the aid of science, she has gone to the laboratories to reinforce her practice with theory. But the chemicals that we buy are raw materials, and since we sell to Germany an amount almost equal to a quarter of our total import, Germany certainly possesses no monopoly there.

Germany buys £560,000 worth of silk from us and sells us £477,600 worth: probably the quality is not the same in each case, since pure black silks are valued at 38s., and on export at 60s., and cream silk at 54s., and 60s. on export. In clothes and underclothes we export £758,960 worth and get £205,800 worth from Germany; and here again it is probable that the same name covers a difference of quality and price. The richer Germany grows the greater will be her demand for our high-class wines and the articles of luxury and elegance in whose production we excel all other nations. In 1887 we sold her £529,320 worth of silk and £155,480 worth of clothes and made-up linen goods. Germany’s industrial progress has stimulated, and not repressed, our exportation. The commercial treaties concluded by the German Government with Italy, Belgium, Russia, Roumania, Servia, Switzerland, and Austria Hungary were passed in February, 1905; they take effect in 1906 and terminate on December 31, 1917.
The Protectionist crisis in Germany has not gone beyond the creation of commercial treaties; it changed the spirit of Caprivi’s policy while preserving his methods. It would have been interesting if Mr. Noel, in his historical sketch of German commercial progress, had shown the development of the Franco-German exchanges: he would then have seen that neither nation had any reason to complain of that eleventh clause of the Frankfort Treaty which imposed on each “a system of reciprocity on the basis of the most favoured nation clause.” The Paris [280] Chamber of Commerce observed that this article only took into account six nations—England, Belgium, the Low Countries, Switzerland, Austria, and Russia—while Germany apparently extended it to cover more than 40: a horrible misfortune indeed!—including San Marino and Hawai; and that if Germany extended most favoured nation treatment to 34 nations over and above the six cited in the Frankfort Treaty, France would find herself in a position of inferiority. In proof of this the arrangement concluded between Germany and the United States on July 10, 1900, was brought forward. Certainly the United States was not included in Clause 11, but Clause 1 declares that Germany concedes to them the reduced duties granted to the nations enumerated in Clause 11. Mr. Noel calls the “attention of the authorities” to the tariff of the new treaty. Why? The new tariff might affect French fruit—that would certainly be annoying; but what use would there be in our attacking German fruit, which does not come into France? The new tariffs threatened our wines. Mr. Noel spoke of the arrangement concluded between Germany and Spain. That is all very well, but are we to imitate Spain in offering something to Germany? He proposes to retaliate by an increased duty on leather; apparently we are too well shod. We are free, of course, to make any tariffs we like, since we are not bound by the commercial treaties; but does Mr. Noel think that this sort of teasing policy is likely to open German and other markets? while it would affect all our international relations through the most favoured nation clause, which by an extraordinary piece of good fortune was inserted in the Frankfort Treaty by Bismarck and Pouyer-Quertier, without their foreseeing any of its results. No French Foreign Minister would ever dream of demanding any modification of Clause 11 as long as the treaty stands—the reason it is surely needless to state.

The German Government, entering in 1789 on a policy of Protection, created a hotbed of Social Democracy in the developing industrial centres. In entering in 1902 on an agrarian policy it strengthened the Socialists by providing them with new arguments; by encouraging the formation of Cartels it went a long way to justify Karl Marx’s theory of the concentration of Capital. When the Prussian Government bought mines and took shares in the Potassium Salt Syndicate and the Tube Syndicate it put in practice Marx’s theory of Collectivism, which it is part of its political creed to deny. Cartels are the active negation of freedom of labour facing every independent manufacturer with the Inquisition’s formula, “Compelle intrare.”
Price is the barometer of economics, indicating dearth or abundance. Protection attempts to check the fluctuations of the market; Cartels so falsify them that every one under their influence, whether as manager or victim, is far away from the truth. The German system of National Economy, directed to the development of national labour by the organisation [283] of Cartels and bounties on export, ended by encouraging foreign labour and arousing competition not only in foreign markets, but even in the home market. Every export bounty is a present made at the expense of the country that gives it, just as every Customs duty is a private tax. A factitious increase in exports reduces a country to bankruptcy. It is the condition described in Article 585, paragraph 3, of the Commercial Code—“buying to sell at a lower price.”

Source: Yves Guyot, The Comedy of Protection [1906]