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Natural Rubber (Usa Restrictions)

Volume 439: debated on Wednesday 9 July 1947

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40.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement indicating the extent to which unemployment and hardship are being caused in Malaya through the embargo which the U.S. have placed on the import of rubber; and what steps are being taken by him to deal with this situation.

Regarding the alleged embargo, I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to him by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on 7th July. Generally speaking, the standard of living of the small holders and employees on rubber estates has fallen below the prewar level; this is due principally to the high cost of imported foods and other supplies, and has not, till now, been seriously accentuated by the recent drop in the price of rubber. Nor has there yet been any large increase in unemployment. The matter is one which is receiving careful attention, and I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given by my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. T, Reid) on 3rd July.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable fear that there is in fact an embargo which is having this serious effect and that the people think that an embargo is in force, though whether in specific terms or in consequence of the effect of some other regulation they do not know?

There is really no embargo but there is the fact that rubber goods manufactured in the United States-must contain a percentage of synthetic rubber.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Crawford Act insists on 50 per cent. being incorporated in manufactured goods and is, in fact, an embargo? Is he further aware that the resulting fall in the price of rubber loses 100 million dollars a year to this country, and is having the effect implied in this Question of unemployment and distress, which will eventually lead to political unrest in Malaya?

His Majesty's Government are fully aware of the problem in regard to rubber and they are giving it immediate and effective attention.

Have the Government made it clear to the United States that the whole system of unilateral trading, by which they set such store, will break down unless they buy sterling commodities of this description, which is the only way we can pay our debts to the United States.

We are fully alive to the problem, but the question obviously should be addressed to the Board of Trade.

Surely, this is a matter of tremendous importance. I should like to know what steps the right hon. Gentleman has taken to bring home to the United States the disastrous effect of the policy they are pursuing?

I can only answer that appropriate steps have been taken by the Government in this matter as a result of the representations of my office.

The right hon. Gentleman has told us that appropriate steps have been taken. Will he tell us what the appropriate steps were?

I have said that the Colonial Office in consultation with other Departments concerned are fully alive to the importance of this matter, and particularly its importance to Malaya—

—and consequently have taken appropriate steps—[HON. MEMBERS: "What steps?"]. I will repeat that—the Government have taken appropriate steps both in regard to international conferences meeting just now and in regard to the Government of the United States.

Has the Minister seen a statement of the chairman of the Rubber Company that America has forced down the price of rubber to one-third of its prewar value, and can he do anything in regard to that?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the rubber planters in Ceylon are contemplating cutting out all rubber and turning over their estates to something else, because of the fall of the price of rubber below the cost of production caused by the action of the United States?