Colonialism and Development: Britain and Its Tropical Colonies, 1850-1960

By Michael Havinden; David Meredith | Go to book overview

11

An impossible task?

Problems of financing colonial economic and social development, 1946-60


EXTERNAL TRADE, 1946-60

One of the most striking aspects of colonial international trade immediately after the Second World War was its rapid growth. Between 1946 and the end of the Korean War boom in 1951 trade values increased at an average rate of 73 per cent per annum (Table 11.1(a) and (b)). Export values increased faster than imports reflecting the colonies’ rising trade surpluses. After the Korean War boom ended trade values generally fell and the remainder of the decade was one of much slower trade growth for these colonies. Their total trade increased by only an average of 2.2 per cent a year between 1951 and 1960. The eastern group experienced negative growth of external trade. In contrast to the 1946-51 period, in the 1950s imports grew slightly faster than exports as trade deficits became more common. Exports were sluggish in 1953 and 1954 and again in 1957 and 1958 followed by a sharp rise in 1960. In the first half of the 1960s trade was static in 1961 and sluggish in 1962, but then accelerated in response to the quickening tempo of world trade.

The surge in trade values between 1946 and 1951 was due more to price rises than increases in export volumes, though these often rose as well. Booming prices for the commodities which colonies exported were caused by increasing demand in Europe for tropical raw materials (rubber, cotton, sisal, minerals) as a result of post-war reconstruction and strong economic growth. Food shortages in Europe also translated into price rises for tropical foodstuffs, especially vegetable oils. Price controls and trade restrictions imposed during the war were gradually lifted and commodity markets re-opened, restoring ‘world prices’ for tropical produce and making prices more sensitive to demand forces. Political crises, notably the Berlin blockade (1948-9) and the start of the Korean War (1950), led to stockpiling of strategic supplies by the United States and its European allies which caused some colonial commodities (rubber, notably) to soar in price.

Export volumes also rose, but were subject to various constraints. In many cases there was a time lag before output could be increased in

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