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Part II: The Rationing System   (cont'd.)

Chapter 10: The Beginnings of the Rationing System

The origins of the rationing system. – Differences between the French and British commercial policies. – The Anglo-French conference upon economic war. – The conference urge that a rationing system be adopted. – Why the rationing system could not be enforced at once. – Prize law and statistical evidence. – The rationing system initiated by diplomatic negotiations.

It will have been evident from the previous chapter, that there was an immediate submission to the March order, in that the great shipping magnates of the north American trade soon offered to observe its provisions. On the other hand, it will also have been evident, that the March order could never have been operated through agreements so local and partial as those immediately concluded with the Scandinavian shipowners. Nor could it have been operated solely by the detentions that the contraband committee were instructed to order, or by the severities that they were told to practise. Indeed, if no advance had been made upon the first instructions: to be stricter with neutral shipping, and to relax in favour of any company that gave satisfactory undertakings, it is difficult to believe that Germany's import and export would ever have been stopped. The March order was, in fact, only to be operated by setting up a universal system for distinguishing between enemy and neutral trade; and the most feasible plan for making this distinction was a plan so simple and natural, that nobody can claim the credit of having thought of it first[:] that of allowing neutrals bordering on Germany to receive their normal imports of food, forage, textiles and propellants, and of stopping all excesses above the normal. This simple project, called rationing, was so much a corollary of the March order, that the history of the order is a history of the rationing system.

i) The origins of the rationing system

It would be imagined that the system was adopted, because the overseas imports of the border neutrals were known to be exceptionally heavy during the summer of 1915. This was certainly an assisting influence, but the decisive, impelling reason was quite different. In the last days of January, 1915, the French government informed us, that our regulations for controlling exports were not in harmony with their own, and that a better co-ordination of the two might at least be attempted. They gave as an example a licence that we had granted for exporting certain consignments of tin, zinc, and spelter from Great Britain to Switzerland. These packages reached France with the ultimate consignees not declared, and the French licensing committee had temporarily refused to allow them to cross the frontier. In a further communication, the French government informed us that they had no desire to stop British tin from passing in transit through France; but that their licensing committee were very apprehensive about granting free passage, without further enquiry, to consignments of a metal which is used in munition making. It appeared to the French, moreover, that, in many respects, the authorities in Great Britain were less restrictive than those in France. For these reasons, and because it was very much to be desired that the allied governments, who were pursuing the same ends, should have a common doctrine in such matters, the French urged that there should be a meeting of technical experts. These communications from the French government were supplemented by others from the British chamber of commerce in Paris, who drew our attention to the impediments imposed on the leather trade between the two countries by the uncoordinated regulations of the British and French governments.

[266] The Foreign Office, the War Office, the Admiralty, and the restriction of enemy supplies committee were all anxious that the proposals of the French government should be agreed to, and a conference convened. The Board of Trade, on the other hand, strongly deprecated that British export licences, or the system under which they were granted, should be discussed with any foreign power. Their opposition was not overcome for many months, so that it was only in June, that is five months after the proposal to convene a conference had been first made, that the allied experts assembled in Paris; and, even then, the Board of Trade declined to send a representative. It was, however, agreed, that not only export licences, but economic warfare as a whole, should be examined by the experts. It will therefore be necessary to review the state of the campaign as an introductory explanation of the decisions that were subsequently taken.

First, as to the state of affairs in Germany and Austria. The remarkable recovery from the first shortages, which had been noticed in March, had certainly been well sustained. The reports of our expert observers during March, April and May, were very similar to one another: the German and Austrian economic systems had been adjusted to existing circumstances, and were working, not normally, it is true, but regularly and without convulsions; the textile and woollen trades were in some difficulties, but nothing suggested that the difficulties would not be overcome. With regard to food, it was as certain as anything could be that there was enough until the next harvest. Nevertheless, two dangerous shortages were apparent: a shortage of meat and fats, and a shortage of oils and lubricants, and this was the immediate, tangible success of the campaign. The success seemed, moreover, to be a permanent gain, which the enemy would not easily wrest from us.

Secondly, as to the importations of border neutrals. The import figures, which were being very carefully and accurately kept, were now becoming complementary evidence both of the shortages in Germany, and of their severity; for just as our expert observers on German affairs reported shortages in meats, fats and oils, so, our expert statisticians observed heavy importations of each by the border neutrals. It will be instructive to review the imports of each country in turn.

The magnates of the Netherlands trust and of the ministry of commerce had fulfilled their undertakings faithfully, for the imports of corn and grain, and of the principal contraband metals, were well below normal. The figures were:

Corn, grain and fodder
      imported from January to July    
1,933,576 tons.
            Normal for the same period 4,159,547 "
Copper, aluminum, lead and tin plates,
      imported from January to July
22,721 "
            Normal for the same period 115,380 "

There was, however, a sharp rise in the imports of those substances that in some form or another might serve to make good the shortages of fats in Germany. The imports of vegetable oils were twice their normal figure, 118,352 tons as against 69,125 normal; oil-bearing nuts and seeds were fifty per cent. above normal. It is improbable that these substances were re-exported as they were received; they were presumably refined and worked into greases, and then sold in Germany as native Dutch produce. There was no subterfuge in this; for the doctrine of derivative contraband had never been closely defined, and, when stated, had been applied to metals only. No charge whatever could be raised against the trust on the strength of these figures, which were evidence only that the shortage of fats in Germany was serious.

Denmark.– The Danish figures were, in large measure, complementary to the Dutch, for the abnormalities were in similar commodities. The imports of lard were about eight and a half times in excess of what was usual, 10,969 tons as against 1,218; the imports of oil-bearing nuts had been doubled, and of rice quadrupled. The [267] other Danish imports were normal, or nearly so, as there was no marked increase in imported metals, or vegetable oils. The imports of corn, grain, fodder and meats had certainly risen above the usual, but the rises were not remarkable or striking. The importation of mineral oils was somewhat higher than normal.

Sweden seemed to be a re-exporting country of certain metals, in addition to lard, rice and oil-bearing nuts. In the matter of corn and forage, the rises were roughly proportionate to the Danish. It will, however, be more convenient to review the Swedish figures later, when the negotiations with Sweden are described.

Norway.– The Norwegian figures showed that very much remained to be done before the Norwegian conduit pipe could be choked, for, notwithstanding that the great shipping directors and the business men in Norway had shown themselves so ready to meet our wishes, it was as clear as anything could be, that metals and fats were being re-exported from the country in considerable quantities. The relevant figures were:

Imports of corn, grain and fodder from January to June, 1915 243,886 tons.
            Normal for the same period 245,514 "
Imports of aluminium from January to June, 1915 965 "
            Normal for the same period 4 "
Imports of copper, brass and bronze from January to June, 1915 4,695 "
            Normal for the same period 1,464 "
Imports of tin from January to June, 1915 1,151 "
            Normal for the same period 186 "
Imports of lard from January to June, 1915 4,376 "
            Normal for the same period 450 "
Imports of animal fats from January to June, 1915 27,084 "
            Normal for the same period 1,341 "
Imports of vegetable oils from January to June, 1915 17,307 "
            Normal for the same period 6,804 "
Imports of oil-bearing nuts from January to June, 1915 14,138 "
            Normal for the same period 7,746 "
Imports of crude and manufactured rubber
      from January to June, 1915
867 "
            Normal for the same period 450 "

ii) Differences between the French and British commercial policies

If these figures of neutral importations had been the only statistics that the allied experts had been convened to consider, then, their task would have been to devise some means of stiffening our control over neutral imports of fats, oils and kindred substances. This, if not simple, would at least have been straightforward, for there were no substantial differences between British and French practice in respect to this trade between neutral and neutral. The French decrees were on an exact footing with our orders in council, and their intercepting squadrons had received instructions similar to those issued to our own. It would, thus, have been a task of no great difficulty to devise additional restraints with regard to sea-borne cargoes of oils, fats and lubricants, and to apply and test these restraints in collaboration. Unfortunately the task before the allied experts was more arduous: by their instructions they were convened to consider whether the allies could not prosecute the economic campaign on a single uniform plan; and this uniform plan, or common doctrine, was not easy to devise, because there were grave differences between the commercial policies of the allied powers.

[268] The French licensing committee - the commission des dérogations aux prohibitions de sortie - had throughout assumed, that any abnormal import by a neutral to a neutral raised a presumption that he intended to re-export to an enemy. Acting on this assumption, they had kept all French exports to border neutrals to the normal figures, with mathematic rigour and precision. Our own system, if system it can be called, was very different. The Board of Trade certainly acknowledged, that the licensing system had been devised to stop contraband from passing to the enemy; but they were also convinced, that the maintenance of British exports was essential to a successful prosecution of the war (their own words); and, finally, they were determined, that the licensing system should never be used to debar British traders from entering a market that would be left open to American, and other foreign, traders. These purposes, each admirable in itself, were however so different, that they could not be combined into a single logical system; and it followed, that, as jealousy of America was the impelling force of the whole policy, so, licences were freely granted for sending goods to any market where large quantities of American goods were being purchased. Now, as American exports to Europe in general, and to the Scandinavian countries in particular, were rising month by month, the Board of Trade had felt bound in conscience to secure some of the profits of these expanding markets to British traders, in consequence of which exports and re-exports to neutrals bordering on Germany had risen surprisingly. Our exports to every other country had fallen. In plain language, therefore, our only gains had been gains in a suspect trade; and, if the presumptions that were made when a neutral's imports were abnormal were sound and justifiable, then, the general presumption that British goods were passing to Germany was best expressed in the following round figures:

Illustrating British exports and re-exports during the first and second quarters of 1915.

The ordinary rises were therefore in the region of three hundred per cent. and the extraordinary very much higher: the inference proper to be drawn was not doubtful.

It is not possible to convert these statistics of values into exact statistics of the corresponding commodities. The general nature of this abnormal trade is, however, easily ascertained; it was in meats, oils, oil-bearing nuts and fatty substances, in [269] fact, in all those commodities, that the shortage in Germany was drawing towards re-exporting states. Cocoa exports had multiplied themselves by three; exports of colonial meats and grains by three and six; the exports of cocoanut, cotton seed and linseed and lubricating oils, and oil-bearing nuts had risen fantastically. The figures were:

Table XXII:
British exports during the first and second quarters of 1915.

January-June, 1913.
January-June, 1915.
Cocoa 8,584,243 lbs.            27,695,835 lbs.     
Meat 238,994 cwts.       492,501 cwts.
Grain and flour 1,865,567 cwts.       5,754,618 cwts.
Cocoanut oil 28,007 cwts.       79,695 cwts.
Cotton-seed oil 414 tons       7,520 tons
Linseed oil 16,247 tons       42,155 tons
Lubricating oils 537,967 gallons 1,177,933 gallons
Flax and linseed for oil pressing 12,767 qrs. 79,192 qrs.
Other oil seeds 11,370 tons 67,391 tons

What the French experts must have thought so peculiar about this trade was that a large number of these commodities were on the list of prohibited exports: Meat, namely beef and mutton, fresh or refrigerated was on list A, whereby exports of the commodity described were prohibited to every destination. The prohibition against oils was in four specifications, each embracing enough to have stopped the traffic: lubricants, vegetable and mineral oils, animal fats and oils, oleaginous nuts and seeds (very carefully specified) were on the second list, which forbad export to all destinations abroad other than British possessions and protectorates. The only exception to this was in respect to what are called essential oils, which, according to the best authorities are volatile oils, or essences, formed naturally, in various trees and plants, so that according to the list, all the oils of which such prodigious quantities were being exported were, by law, prohibited exports. In addition to this, most of these substances were contraband: meats, foods and forage had been declared so in the first proclamation; lubricants had been declared conditional contraband in December and absolute in March. Linseed oil had not, it is true, been inserted in any contraband list when the conference assembled, but the final clause of the March proclamation was very explicit as to oil-bearing nuts and fats; for it ran thus:

      And we do hereby further declare that the terms foodstuffs and feeding stuffs for animals in the list of conditional contraband contained in our royal proclamation aforementioned shall be deemed to include oleaginous seeds, nuts and kernels, animal, vegetable oils and fats (other than linseed oil) suitable for use in the manufacture of margarine; and cakes and meals made from oleaginous seeds, nuts and kernels.

The authorities had therefore most carefully drafted the list, so that it should include all substances that might serve to make good the German shortage in fats, oils and lubricants. Finally, our authorities had been allowing abnormal exports, even in those metals that might, without abuse of language, be called the most absolute of all articles of absolute contraband, in that they had been specially mentioned in our first memorandum to neutrals, presented in November, 1914 - a document that may well be likened to the first rude foundations of a vast edifice. During the first six months of the year, the Norwegians imported two hundred and forty times their normal requirements of aluminium; Great Britain supplied 113 tons, which was in itself twenty-five times the normal figure. Abnormal quantities of tin, which the French committees treated as a metal very much used in munition making, had also been sent to Norway. The country's usual supply for a half year was 186 tons: the Norwegians had actually received 1,151 tons between January and June, and the whole quantity had been sent from Great Britain, which meant, [270] that our authorities had given permission for shipments six times larger than the country's normal requirements, notwithstanding that tin was absolute contraband, and a prohibited export. Our condescension to the Swedes had been even greater. Sweden was suspected, on good grounds, to be the country which re-exported more contraband to Germany than any other; in spite of this, the Swedes had been allowed to take in 3,387 tons of tin from Great Britain, which was about six times their normal import.

It can easily be imagined what apprehensions these figures must have excited among the French export committees, and it should be added, to the honour of the French representatives at the conference, that they discussed these matters with great restraint, and urged only, that the three western allies, France, Great Britain and Italy should pursue a common policy. A few sharp remarks were certainly exchanged, as for instance, when Monsieur Gout, reminded us, that the unco-ordinated purposes of the French and British governments were raising a nasty feeling in France, where commercial men were watching British goods flowing into markets that they themselves were forbidden to enter. The warning was justifiable, and it would have been easy to elaborate it. Inasmuch as the French never did so, they are more to be congratulated on controlling their indignation, than reproached for a few sharp phrases, which they could have made much sharper, if they had allowed themselves to swerve from their purpose of promoting the common good.

iii) The Anglo-French conference upon economic war

The allied representatives met daily between 3rd June and 9th June, and, although the discussions were for the most part very technical, it must have been evident to all, that the bare technical differences in the British and French regulations might remain unadjusted, without prejudice to the general plan, if the higher policies of the two governments could only be put into harmony. The actual difference was, that, whereas our own prohibition list was in four sections, the French had issued a single list, but had allowed certain commodities on it to be exported to allied countries without special authorisation. If the authorities in Paris and London had been pursuing the same ends, that is, if the British licensing authorities had been keeping British exports to border neutrals to their normal quantities, then, it would have been a matter of no great moment that the administrative process was slightly different. Again, it appeared upon a close inspection, that our own prohibition lists mentioned commodities not to be found in the French. The French authorities readily agreed to make the additions that we suggested; but it was somewhat ironical that we should be asking the French to make their prohibitions more embracing, when they were urging us to reduce our trade with the enemy. Furthermore, it was of little or no assistance to the common cause, that such articles as sulphate of antimony, molybdenum, molybdenite, scheelite and selenium should not be exported from France to the United States (which was all that we had to ask) unless general policies were better regulated. Finally, it was an excellent principle, that all articles on the contraband lists should also be on the lists of prohibited export; but when the two lists were juxtaposed, it was at once seen that the additions necessary for making them uniform were comparatively trivial. The only big difference was that coal was absolute contraband, though not a prohibited export; the export of coal was, however, being rigidly controlled by a special committee. In any case, a bare uniformity between contraband and prohibited exports settled nothing. The point at issue was, that the treatment should be uniform, that is, that huge consignments of tin, tin plates, and aluminium, should not be exported from Great Britain, when French and British cruisers were stopping contraband metals on the high seas; and that prodigious quantities of oils, fats and greases should not be sent from Great Britain to border neutrals, [271] while the French and British contraband committees were detaining similar cargoes on evidence that was largely statistical. It was equally easy to devise satisfactory regulations for transmitting British goods through France; for the French authorities expressed great willingness to facilitate their passage; but of what use was it that the French should not apply their export regulations against British goods in transit, if their jealousies and suspicions of our good faith remained? So long as figures of our rising exports to border neutrals were issued from month to month, and were inspected by the French committee for restricting the enemy supplies, and so long as the French authorities could only report (as they once did): c'est moins la Hollande que la Grande Bretagne qui alimente l'Allemagne, then, each permit for passing British goods through France was certain to excite new suspicions, more indignation, and new controversy. Every question examined by the conference thus served as an introduction or preliminary to a general resolution upon policy: that it was highly desirable to reduce neutral supplies to normal, first by reducing the allied exports, and then, by stopping or confiscating all abnormal supplies from neutral to neutral; and that this general regulation and co-ordination of allied policies was only to be achieved through a rationing system, applied with equal justice against allied and neutral trade.

iv) The conference urge that a rationing system be adopted

It was fortunate that although the three British representatives, Mr. Hurst, Admiral Slade and Captain Longden, understood and appreciated the policy that had thus allowed British exports to flow towards border neutrals, they were not prepared to defend it vigorously. Mr. Hurst did, indeed, state the case for the Board of Trade, that it was of no use to cut down allied exports to neutrals, if the only consequence would be to stimulate American trade in markets that the allies would abandon; and the French chairman was fair minded and conciliatory enough to call this a just and reasonable apprehension. The British representatives felt, however, that they could not possibly stand on this contention, when the answer to it was so obvious: That no systematic regulation of American supplies to border neutrals could be attempted, unless and until the allies had systematically controlled their own exports to the same markets. In Mr. Hurst's own words: The principle is so sound in theory that Admiral Slade and I both felt there were limits beyond which it would not be prudent to oppose it.

When the British representatives had thus agreed to the principle, there was no further obstacle; for the Italian delegates were as anxious that it should be adopted as the French, and the resolutions which may be called the beginnings of the rationing system ran thus:

      1. Les délegués émettent le voeu que soient prohibés à la sortie, tous les articles de contrabande absolue, et que la même règle soit appliquée aux produits ou objets de contrabande conditionelle, étant entendu que, pour la définition des vivres et fourrages on se refera aux listes établies par la marine francaise et par l'Amirauté britannique.
      Ils experiment aussi le voeu, que les listes de prohibition soient unifées le plus tôt possible et dans la plus large mesure possible.
      2. Cotingentement des neutres. Les délegués émittent le voeu que les pays alliés permettent la sortie des articles cotingentés dans la limite des quantités exportées en périodes normales. Lorsque les demandes d'exportation seront supérieurs a ces quantités, des pourparlers seront engagés entre eux pour la détermination d'un cotingentement supplémentaire, d'après une base que sera fixée ultérieurement.1 Ils expriment, en outre, le desir que des études soient enterprises
[272] d'un commun accord, dans les pays alliés, en vue déterminer les conditions dans lesquels devront jouer l'Ordre en Conseil britannique du 11 mars, 1915, et le décret français du treize mars au regard de l'approvisionnement des pays neutres, ainsi que de fixer les quantités a partir desquelles la destination ennemie pourrait être présumée, la preuve de l'innocence de la marchandise devant être fournie par le commerçant neutre. Ils recommandent également à leurs gouvernements l'étude des produits sur lesquels devra porter le cotingentement, quand ils sont à destination de pays neutres voisins de l'ennemi.

v) Why the rationing system could not be enforced at once

It will be seen, that these resolutions imposed an obligation to ration allied exports, as a preliminary to a more general system of stopping abnormal exports from neutral to neutral. With regard to the second task, the conference had done little but state that it was a thing, in itself, desirable. No plan for effecting it had been considered; for the legal expert, Monsieur Fromageot, merely stated, that detaining and condemning cargoes on statistical evidence might, conceivably, be justified on the doctrine of continuous voyage.

Sir Eyre Crowe and the officers of the contraband department, who were conscious that any delay or hesitation in endorsing these resolutions would be productive of bad consequences, urged the Board of Trade to agree. The Board of Trade did, certainly, agree in principle at an early date; but their letters only showed how great were the differences that still had to be adjusted. As has been said, the conference had considered this rationing of allied exports to be the first necessary task; the Board of Trade maintained, that unless the contraband committee could undertake to enforce a rationing system on neutrals immediately and at once, they could see no use in forcibly reducing British exports to neutrals. This demand, that the two parts of the system should be operated simultaneously, or not at all, was, virtually, a demand that the resolutions of the conference should be agreed to in principle, and ignored in practice; for it was manifest, that an unprecedented restraint upon neutral trade could not be imposed as quickly as new restraints upon British exports, for which all the necessary powers were available. Nevertheless, the Board of Trade do not appear to have stood immovably upon their objections, for a number of administrative preparations were made during July, and, in the middle of August, the Foreign Office convened another allied conference to consider details. At this conference, it was agreed that neutral imports of all the more important articles of contraband should be reduced to normal, on legal principles.2

vi) Prize law and statistical evidence

Investigation only showed, however, how extremely difficult it would be to give effect to this resolution. However generously the doctrine of continuous voyage were interpreted, it yet remained a settled principle of law, that the doctrine could only be applied against particular cargoes, and would only be effectively applied if statistical evidence alone would justify condemnation. Supposing then, that the statistical authorities reported, on a certain date, that a border neutral had by then [273] imported its normal quarterly allowance of a specified article. What presumption would there be against the first, or even the second, third, or fourth, neutral cargo in excess of this normal allowance? Obviously there would be very little; for statistical evidence would only be decisive after neutral imports had very much exceeded the normal. In other words, a rationing system applied on legal principles, which was what the last conference recommended, would be no check at all to abnormal importations, and would only be effective for a short time, after large quantities of contraband had been allowed to pass, in order to pile up evidence against later cargoes. Again, supposing a neutral manufacturer imported for himself more of a contraband article than was allowed to his whole country for the current quarter; but supposing also, that he showed he had bought very little during the previous year, and needed what he was now buying for his business: the question before the court would not be what the trading community in his country were doing, but what he personally was doing: and there would be no ground for condemning his particular consignment.

It so happened, moreover, that what could, and what could not, be inferred from statistical evidence had been inquired into by the crown lawyers during the preceding months, for the Kim case (which had just been tried) had turned on that very point. The cargoes held and condemned in the ships Kim, Alfred Nobel, Fridland and Bjornstjerne Bjornsen were cargoes of meat products, consigned to Copenhagen by the Chicago meat packers. The detentions had been ordered: because the ships were chartered by the Gans line, a very doubtful concern; because the lard shipments in these vessels alone were nearly thirteen times the normal yearly import of all Denmark; and because our consul-general in Chicago reported, that German agents were organizing the shipments. The statistical evidence therefore raised a strong presumption that the cargoes were intended to be re-shipped to the enemy. The ships were detained during the last months of the year 1914, and the case was tried in July of the following year: the case for the crown was prepared during the intervening months.

Now when the known facts were first laid before the procurator-general's counsel, the counsel reported that they could not get a condemnation from those facts alone; but that they were confident if enquiries were made about every person mentioned in the papers, then, that additional evidence would be obtained. Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, and our ministers in Scandinavia were, therefore, instructed to make these enquiries; as a result, information was collected which proved, that the Chicago packers had originally sent their goods to Hamburg, but that, when war broke out, they moved their Hamburg staff to Copenhagen and Rotterdam, and gave them instructions to re-establish their old German connections from there. In addition to this, the correspondence between the Hamburg agent and the Cudahy company in Chicago was communicated to us, and it left no doubt whatever, that the meat packers were simply using Copenhagen as a distributing warehouse. The greater part of the cargoes were condemned in consequence; the condemnation was, however, secured only by lodging the information collected about the packers and their business. The statistical evidence was regarded as a guide, or an indication, but no more.

Nevertheless, it could be regarded as tolerably certain, that close enquiry would disclose facts similar to those discovered in the Kim case, whenever statistics proved the import of a particular commodity to be quite abnormal; for great and unusual shipments of any commodity are generally arranged by commercial juntas, who cannot conceal their operations altogether. More than this, whenever large detentions are ordered, the shippers and consignees are driven, by force of circumstances, to exchange telegrams and letters, which inevitably fall into the censor's hands, and furnish good evidence of their intentions. It was, therefore, no mere lucky chance which placed so much relevant evidence in our hands: if a wool and meat [274] combine in South America had been imitating the meat packers operations, similar evidence would almost certainly have been obtainable. There were thus good grounds for believing, that if statistical evidence were treated as a starting point for further enquiry, then, that enquiry would be fruitful. There was, however, a great difference between the condemnations that could be obtained by this method, and the automatic condemnation of all cargoes in excess of normal import, which would be necessary, if a general rationing system were to be operated by the courts alone.3

vii) The Rationing system initiated by diplomatic negotiations

Apart from these difficulties, there were others purely administrative. Assuming that we could justify wholesale detentions on statistical evidence, were the detentions to begin after a neutral had absorbed its normal ration for a year, for a quarter, or for a month? Each alternative seemed dangerous. Supposing that the yearly ration were taken as the standard, and supposing that the importers in a neutral country took in the yearly ration in four months; our authorities would then be obliged to stop all traffic in the commodity for the remaining eight months of the year, a most dangerous proceeding. There were equally strong objections to detaining after a normal quarter's imports had been received in a neutral country. The dishonest merchants would secure their goods during the first part of the quarter, leaving our authorities to deal, as best they might, with imports in excess of the normal, but consigned to firms of good standing, who could prove that their consignments were for their own use.

It is small wonder, therefore, that the system was still no more than a bare project or plan, three months after the conference in Paris had adjourned. In Mr. Hurst's words: For months past we have talked about it, and hankered after it. As the general system was still a mere project under discussion, and as the Board of Trade had stated, from the outset, that they did not think it wise to reduce British exports to neutrals bordering on Germany, until the whole system was perfected, they did not consider themselves under any obligation to give effect to the resolutions originally passed in Paris. During July, August and September, therefore, a great volume of British exports were allowed to pass into Holland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and the figures for the quarter were these:

Table XXIV:
Illustrating British exports and re-exports
during the third quarter of 1915.

British exports to   For the 3rd quarter  
of 1913.
For the 3rd quarter
of 1915.
£ £
Holland 3,401,754 4,019,545
Denmark 1,479,930 2,260,090
Norway 1,496,436 1,573,287
Sweden 2,221,446 1,275,515
Greece   571,436   423,032

British, foreign and
      colonial exports to
Holland 1,169,646 2,268,787
Denmark   178,950   927,886
Norway     92,350   348,704
Sweden   191,644   980,441
Greece     16,493     50,431

[275] Nevertheless, a great advance was impending. During August and September, the statistical experts prepared the most elaborate tables of all the commodities that were to be rationed; each commodity was made the subject of a statistical monograph, which contained figures of the quantities imported by each neutral country in a year, the amount imported from each ally, and the amount received from other neutrals. The tables for cotton, and for the most important grains and metals, were completed by September.

When these figures were available, the contraband department of the Foreign Office assumed responsibility for enforcing such a system as could be enforced; but it does not appear that the business was transferred to them by any special order or instruction. The transfer was made, because the Foreign Office authorities saw an opportunity and seized it. They were then in treaty with the Industrieraadet of Denmark, with the Netherlands Overseas Trust, and with certain textile associations in Scandinavia; authoritative statistics of normal imports became available before anything had been concluded, and the Foreign Office determined to use these statistics in the negotiations then proceeding. The system was thus constructed piecemeal, because the long preliminary investigations had only served to show, that the first, simple, project for a universal system was unworkable.

The actual construction and operation of the system were, indeed, exceedingly laborious: first, as the bare principle was admitted to be a necessary corollary to operating the March order, so, it was inserted in all the great contraband agreements concluded in the year 1915, which may thus be called the struts or pillars of the system; secondly, when the principle was admitted, and the admission registered in the contraband agreements, a number of other agreements were negotiated for regulating trade in particular commodities; thirdly, the cotton trade between America and Europe was brought under control. The history of the system was thus the history of these three advances in the economic campaign: the contraband agreements of the year 1915; the agreements complementary to them; and the regulation of cotton. Negotiations on these points were subjected to so many influences, political, military and economic, that the rationing system was but a small item in a great complex of disputed questions. Nevertheless, the neutrals of northern Europe could not have been rationed, unless negotiations for operating the March order had been successfully concluded; and unless the government of the United States had been persuaded to acquiesce in a declaration that cotton would be treated as contraband: the difficulties encountered on all these heads are thus illustrative of the difference between the simple, logical, concept of rationing, and intricate system by which it was made operative.

1This clause was inserted at our instance, and was intended to keep the door of a good neutral market ajar. ...back...

2                  Table XXIII
The commodities on this first rationing list were:
    Copper. Wolfram. Cotton.
    Aluminium. Foodstuffs and forage. Wool.
    Antimony. Oleaginous nuts, seeds, etc.      Rubber.
    Nickel. Lard. Hides.
    Chrome. Rice. Graphite.
    Ferro alloys. Maize. Jute.
    Tin, tin plates.            Cattle food. Resinous products.
    Manganese. Oils, fats, lubricants. Tanning.
    Tungsten. ...back...

3The prize court was never invited to condemn a cargo on statistical evidence alone, so that the law on the point is not settled. The relevance of statistical evidence as proof of an ulterior, and enemy, destination was discussed in the Kim case, see British and Colonial Prize Cases, Vol. I, p. 405 et seq. ...back...

A History of the Blockade of Germany
and of the countries associated with her in the Great War:
Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.

by A. C. Bell (Historical Section, Committee of Imperial Defence).