West African Trade: A Study of Competition, Oligopoly and Monopoly in a Changing Economy

By P. T. Bauer | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 16
THE BUYING ORGANIZATIONS AND METHODS OF THE MERCHANTS AND OF OTHER INTERMEDIARIES IN THE EXPORT TRADE

1. PRE-WAR ORGANIZATION OF THE EXPORT TRADE

Before the war the merchants acted as principals in the purchase and shipment of export produce. The firms bought produce at their buying stations, which were generally situated up-country in, or close to, the areas of production.

The actual buying for the firms was undertaken by their clerks or by various categories of middlemen who depended, in differing degrees, upon the firms' funds, premises, labour, equipment and so on. The clerks bought direct from producers, from middlemen who had collected small parcels from producers, or from other smaller intermediaries. Many of the more substantial middlemen had their own organization of employees and sub-middlemen, often running parallel with those of the merchant firms. Thus a middleman selling to an intermediary acting for a particular trading firm often competed with other intermediaries also buying for that firm, and/or with that firm's salaried employees engaged in produce buying.1

The middlemen were paid commission by the merchant firms; moreover, they kept any differences between the prices they paid for produce and those they received from the firms. Some of the smaller middlemen received agreed payments (as salaries), as well as commission on purchases. Clerks also sometimes received small commission payments, as well as their salaries.1

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1
The analogy will be readyily perceived with the organization of the import trade, where customers of the import merchants often sell merchandize in competition with the semi-wholesale and retail establishments of the firms from which they buy their own supplies.
1
This short summary sets out the essentials of the pre-war buying organizations of the merchant firms. In practice the features were often blurred by local terminology, by having distinctive names for different types of middlemen. A useful detailed description of the organization of cocoa buying before the war is presented in the Report of the Commission on the Marketing of West African Cocoa, Cmd. 5845, 1938 (the Nowell Report), chapters IV and VIII. A description of the post-war buying organization of the United Africa.Company is presented in the Statistical and Economic Review of the United Africa Company, September 1948 (cocoa), March 1949 (oil-palm produce), September 1949 (groundnuts) and September 1951 (cotton). In general, the organization of the other firms is on similar lines though on a smaller scale.

-202-

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