Front Page Titles (by Subject) COLONIAL TRADE BILL 17 May 1822 - The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 5 Speeches and Evidence
COLONIAL TRADE BILL 17 May 1822 - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 5 Speeches and Evidence 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 5 Speeches and Evidence 1815-1823.
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First published by Cambridge University Press in 1951. Copyright 1951, 1952, 1955, 1973 by the Royal Economic Society. This edition of The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo is published by Liberty Fund, Inc., under license from the Royal Economic Society.
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COLONIAL TRADE BILL
17 May 1822
This bill had been introduced by the President of the Board of Trade in order to remove some of the restrictions on the trade of the West Indian and North American colonies: it allowed American ships to trade with certain ports, and it allowed British ships to export from the colonies direct to foreign countries, instead of through the United Kingdom. The debate however turned on the sugar duties, which favoured the West Indies against the East Indies. On the second reading Mr. Ellice spoke in support of the bill and referred to the injustice to which the West Indian planters and settlers had been subjected by the alteration in the currency.
Mr. Ricardo rose, in the first instance, to make one observation on the subject of the currency. Though the facts were not known to him, he could not help suspecting the correctness of his hon. friend, respecting the payments in the West Indies. That persons in the West Indies who, in 1815 paid a debt of 100l. with 155l. of their currency, should now have to pay 227l., while that currency was not itself altered in value, seemed to him incredible. He would go on, however, to another subject. If he had wanted an argument in favour of a free trade, he should not have gone farther than the speech of his hon. friend. He had painted the system exactly as it was. He had told them that the ship-owners were burthened with peculiar charges; that to compensate themselves for these charges, the ship-owners were allowed to saddle unnecessary expenses on the West Indians; that the West Indians were not allowed to refine their sugar, but were obliged to send it over with a quantity of mud, in order to employ and encourage our shipping; that they, in their turn, had a monopoly given them of the supply of the home market, where the consumer got his sugar burthened by the cost of all these charges. The system throughout was of the same nature. Vexatious and unnecessary burthens were cast upon one class, and that class was allowed to relieve itself by preying upon some other. An hon. member had put a very proper question; when he was told that the people of England were taxed for the sake of the West Indians, the hon. member had asked, who got this million and a half, when the West Indians could barely keep their estates in cultivation? No one got it. That was what he (Mr. R.) complained of. The people of England paid grievously for their sugar, without a corresponding benefit to any persons. The sum which they paid was swallowed up in the fruitless waste of human labour. The hon. member for London had said, that they should pay the same price for their sugar, whether they taxed it or not. Now it was not possible this could be the case. The hon. member might as well have said, that if they did not lay a tax on tea, the Chinese would raise the price of it equal to the present price burthened with the tax. The general principle that regulated price where free competition operated was, that a commodity would be sold as cheap as the producers could afford. Unless, therefore, our admission of the East India sugars could add to the cost of producing them, there could be no increase of price. The case of the West Indies was precisely similar to that of the corn laws. As in the latter case we were protecting our poor soil from the competition of the rich soil of other countries, so were we to protect the poor soil of the West Indies from the competition of the rich soil of the East Indies. The mischief in such cases was, that there was much human labour thrown away without any equivalent. He fully agreed, that there would be the greatest possible injustice in sacrificing the vested interests of the West Indies; but it would be cheaper to purchase our sugar from the East Indies, and to pay a tax directly to the West Indies for the liberty of doing so. We should be gainers by the bargain; because there would be no waste of human labour. As he thought a monopoly was a disadvantage on either side, he saw no reason for opposing the present bill, which approached, to a certain degree, to free trade. We could not too soon return to the sound principle; and if we once arrived at it the House would no longer be tormented with these discussions, and with constant solicitations to sacrifice the public good to particular interests.