The Economic History of Steelmaking, 1867-1939: A Study in Competition

By Duncan Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter XV
'THE BLACK DECADE' 1921-1931

1. THE RETURN OF COMPETITION

As 1920 closed, the flow of exports from Britain dwindled and imports flooded in. Less than 200,000 tons of iron and steel left in December, 160,000 tons came in. Throughout the next year it was the same story, and in tonnage the imports over the year, coming mainly from the Continent, were a bare 50,000 tons below the exports. In value there was a great difference; but the pre-war situation was visibly returning, and from this time on, though the balance occasionally turned more favourably, it became increasingly manifest that the degree of change which had occurred in the industry--a characteristic compromise, the apologist might suggest--was quite inadequate to restore the competitive strength of common-grade steelmaking in Great Britain. The handicaps under which it had been expected that the Continent would labour proved lighter than had seemed likely, while the old advantages were amplified and augmented.

Table XXIX gives the export statistics up to 1931. If they are compared with the pre-war figures it is to be borne in mind that, by the provisions of the Peace Treaty, Lorraine and part of Upper Silesia were permanently separated from Germany, and the Saar temporarily, while Luxemburg was to remain outside the German customs union. But all these areas had free access to the German market for five years, and in those years and subsequently have exported much to Germany: such trade did not figure in the pre-war figures. While this was not negligible, it does not affect the general bearing of the figures.

By 1922 the Continental exporters had, as a group, almost their pre-war share of the export trade. They lost ground in 1923 mainly on account of the policy of passive resistance during the occupation of the Ruhr; but in 1925, when the total trade had for the first time passed the pre-war figure, they had

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