HL Deb 01 April 1844 vol 73 cc1677-83
Lord Beaumont

rose, in pursuance of the notice he had given, to draw the attention of their Lordships to the state of our Commercial Relations with the Sublime Porte, and stated that he should endeavour briefly, and he hoped clearly, to point out the great disadvantage which British merchants, trading with the Levant, laboured under through the manner in which the Convention of 1838 had been carried out. In stating this, he begged to observe that he had no reason to complain of the supineness of Government in this case; for, from the very first moment the attention of the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen) had been drawn to the subject, he had (he was aware) sought information from those quarters which could best afford it to him in that country, and the result of that information had convinced him that some steps must be taken to place our commerce with that portion of the world on a satisfactory footing, and that some negotiations must take place with a great northern power, to induce them to allow British merchants to be placed on the same footing with Russian merchants. It was not his wish to cast the slightest reflection on the conduct of the government of the Sublime Porte in this matter. He believed there was no ground for complaining of want of faith on the part of Turkey, that country having done its best to carry out, not only the letter, but the spirit and meaning of the Convention of 1838, but it had been thwarted in those good intentions by the influence which always prevailed most powerfully with the Porte—the influence of Russia, which had ever been hostile to British interests in Turkey. It would be necessary to state briefly the position in which the duties and customs of Turkey, in regard to its trade with foreign countries, had stood previous to the Convention to which he had alluded, and having done that, he would proceed to explain the nature and object of the Convention itself, also the character of the Treaty which had since been negotiated between Russia and the Porte, and the manner in which the two Conventions—that between the Porte and England on the one hand, and between the Porte and Russia on the other—operated to the detriment of British interests, and the great gain of Russian merchants. Previous to the Convention of 1838, all goods imported into or exported from Turkey, were subject to various duties in their internal transit through the country, every different district its different an separate duties, the levying of which, often in the most arbitrary and harassing manner, had been found to impede commerce in a considerable degree, and to interfere with the business of the merchants. And although in some provinces, as in the middle of Asia Minor, those duties were not more than 2 or 3 per cent., in others they were upwards of 9 per cent. on exports, and more than 2 per cent. upon imports. In addition to those internal duties, seacoast and frontier duties were also imposed upon all imports and exports, the duty on exports being greater than the duty on imports. To remedy this state of things, which was injurious both to the British merchant and the Turks themselves, negotiations were set on foot between England and Turkey, the result of which was the Convention of 1838, a Convention admirably conceived for effecting the object in view and conferring enormous benefit on Turkey; and, if fairly carried out, giving that advantage to British merchants which, even under all the existing disadvantages, they would be loth to forego, viz., the advantage of simplifying their transactions with the customhouses of the Ottoman empire. That Convention was framed upon these bases; that all imports and all exports, on arriving at the frontier or at the port, should pay an ad valorem duty of 3 per cent.; and that all imports should pay a duty of two per cent ad valorem, in lieu of all those harassing duties to which they had been previously subjected in the interior, thus making the total duty on imports 5 per cent. ad valorem, freeing them in regard to their future transactions from all other imposts. With regard to exports this was the plan—that they should pay 3 per cent. at the port, and a commutation of 9 per cent., in lieu of the internal duties, making a total export duty of 12 per cent. The advantage of this arrangement must be obvious; and they had upon their Lordships' Table evidence of the great benefits which had followed the Convention. The Ottoman merchants, and the people of Turkey generally, were alive to those advantages, and commerce had increased under the operation of the Convention. Their Lordships had the evidence of the British Consul, at the Dardanelles, who stated on the authority of merchants and others with whom he had communicated, how beneficially the Convention had worked so far as Turkey was concerned. Unfortunately, however, Russia, shortly after, was desirous of renewing her commercial Treaty with the Porte. She renewed her Treaty, and in doing so she established au ad valorem duty, and to prevent disputes between the two powers in carrying out that Treaty, a tariff of value was framed of the different goods in which the two countries traded, and a fixed price was put upon them. With regard to that tariff, he might observe in passing, that the prices were a trifle lower than those which had been put upon the goods in the tariff between England and Turkey; but that difference, as appeared from Mr. Cartwright's letter was not great. While under that tariff a duty of 3 per cent. was imposed by Turkey both upon imports and exports, as between Russia and the Porte, and in any case in which any dispute as to value should arise, that 3 per cent. was to be taken in kind, not one word was stated in the Treaty of the 9 per cent. on exports, and the 2 per cent. on imports, commutation duties which were imposed in the English Convention in lieu of the internal duties; and in the greater part of Turkey not 1s. of those internal duties did Russia pay. In the preamble to the Russian tariff, signed Sept. 27, 1842, it was stated that ''Russian merchants must pay, as import duty and as export duty on merchandise imported into and exported from Turkey, 3 per cent. To prevent disputes in valuing the goods, the contracting powers have made a tariff to stand as a fixed rule. If disputes should arise about the value of any goods, 3 per cent. on such goods shall be paid." Consequently, the Russian merchants possessed an advantage over the English merchants in their trade with Turkey of 9 per cent. on all exports and 2 per cent. on all imports, to the evident destruction of the British trade. And even in those cases where the Pacha of any district resisted the attempt to avoid the internal duties, it was the custom of the Russian merchants to pass their goods through as English merchants, claiming the benefit of the English Convention, until they arrived at the port or frontier, where they became Russian merchants again, and so escaped the internal duty altogether. As showing the extent to which this system prejudiced the British merchant he would refer to the evidence on the table:—Colonel Barnett, the Consul at Alexandria, states that The disadvantages under which British commerce labours, in consequence of Russian subjects being able to import and export on payment of only 3 per cent. cannot be disputed, and British goods have been imported in British vessels consigned fraudulently to a Russian subject to escape the 2 per cent. composition duty. Many Greeks will take advantage of the facility of obtaining Russian protection to elude payment of the extra duties, to the great detriment of our commerce. Colonel Rose, writing from Beyrout, says, The Convention of 1838, acted upon by the Russian tariff, has caused such injury to the interests of the British merchants that they practise evasions in order to free themselves from the payment of the excess of duty which they have to pay beyond that paid by the Russian merchants. One British merchant pays so much per cent. to a person who is a Russian merchant to trade as a Russian merchant. Russian merchants, all persons trading under Russian protection, do not pay duties equivalent to the commutation duties of 2 and 9 per cent. paid by British merchants under the Convention of 1838. The Russian seller can, therefore, drive the British seller out of the market. Mr. Chapeaud says, 'I, as a British merchant, lost at least 30,000 piastres this year, owing to the difference between the duties payable by us to those which Russian merchants pay.' Col. Wood, the Consul at Damascus, stated— As no extra internal duty is levied on Turkish produce beyond what is levied in the first instance on the grower, which is equally paid indirectly both by the British and Russian merchants, notwithstanding that the payment of the commutation duty of 9 per cent. is obligatory on the former, and is not so on the latter—and as the Russian merchants in carrying on their trade in Turkey are not subject to the payment of the commutation duty of 2 per cent. to which the British merchants are liable—the degree of injury to the British import and export trade in competition with the Russian trade may be easily calculated—namely, the difference between the Russian tariff of 3 per cent. import and export duties, and the British tariff and commutation duties of 5 and 12 per cent. the advantages therefore to the Russian merchants are a saving of 2 per cent. on imported and of 9 per cent. on exported goods, which by destroying competition, prejudices to a great extent the British import and export trade, or at least throws it into the hands of the Russian merchants, or of the natives under Russian protection. Vice-Consul Neale added:— It is a notorious fact that imports to this country from Great Britain and oilier countries, when they consist of valuable commodities, are, whenever it can be effected, received under the name of a Russian merchant, or others under the protection of Russia, and trading under the Russian tariff. Mr. Cartwright, who had obtained the evidence of British merchants in Constantinople, stated that our trade with Turkey, in consequence of the advantages given to Russia, was suffering more injury than it had experienced even before the Convention of 1838. Such a system could not but be productive of great loss of trade to this country, and the question he (Lord Beaumont) was anxious to put to the noble Earl opposite was, whether any negotiations had been set on foot to remove the inequality to which British merchants were subjected in their dealings with Turkey as compared with Russian merchants? and, if so, on what bases those negotiations were intended to be carried on? for he should be sorry to think that all the advantages of the Convention of 1838 would be lost to us, and that we should be placed as we were before that period, merely on the footing of the most favoured nations, restoring all the monopolies and the complicated system of imports which formerly existed. He wished to know whether it was the intention of the Government to demand that the spirit of the Convention should be maintained, that was so far as the fixed duty on all imports and exports was concerned, and the principle of the tariff, by which all disputes of value were removed, and whether the noble Earl would endeavour to induce all foreign Powers, having commercial regulations with Turkey, to adopt the same principles, and thus establish for Turkey, that which would be of immense advantage to her, viz., a system of import and export duties to be levied at the port or the frontier, abolishing the internal imposts?

The Earl of Aberdeen

said, the noble Lord had given a most correct description of the inconvenience and disadvantage under which British commerce laboured in the Levant under the operation of the commercial treaty of 1838; but when the noble Lord asked whether negotiations were on foot to remedy those inconveniences, he must recollect that those negotiations did not depend upon this country and Turkey only, but upon the will of other Powers which had not acceded to the treaty in question. France had accepted the treaty as now concluded on the part of Great Britain. Austria had provisionally acceded to it; but Russia, when it was concluded, had not thought proper to accede to it. Previous to the date of that treaty, all nations alike paid in Turkey three per cent. duty on both exports and imports; a sum so moderate, that the Porte, to indemnify itself, found it necessary to have recourse to various internal duties, by which commerce was impeded and injured. No doubt the treaty of 1838 was a great improvement, both for Turkish and foreign commerce: but it was perfectly free to Russia, as far as she was concerned, to accede or not to accede to a treaty concluded by Turkey with other nations. By the first article of the treaty, however, if Russia was placed upon a more advantageous footing than this country, this country was entitled to be placed in the same condition. But the noble Lord would, if he referred to the reports of the consuls, find that not one of them—disadvantageous as our situation appeared to be—not one of them was anxious that we should be placed on the same footing with Russia. The matter was one really not for negotiation between this country and Russia. It was rather for the Porte to negociate with Russia, with a view to completing with that Power a similar treaty to that which it had completed with us. Perhaps he (the Earl of Aberdeen) would be most satisfactorily answering the questions of the noble Lord, and meeting all his expectations upon this subject, if he stated the simple fact that, within a recent period, instructions had been sent to the Russian Ministers at Constantinople to enter into negotiations for a treaty with the Sublime Porte, founded upon the same basis as that which had been concluded with Great Britain; and he had reason to hope before any long time had elapsed it would be acceded to. He could assure the noble Lord that Government had not been idle in this matter, but had used such efforts, and in such quarters, as they thought were most likely to be of effect. The noble Lord had correctly described the inconveniences and disadvantages to which British merchants in the Levant were subject under the existing state of things; but he hoped that in consequence of this direct communication between the Government of Russia and that of the Porte they would be avoided before very long. If they should not, it would become necessary for this country to exact what it was entitled to under the former treaty, that her subjects be placed upon an equal footing with those of the "most favoured nations."

Lord Beaumont

said, he was delighted to hear the statement of the noble Lord, and he hoped the British merchants who had intended placing themselves under the protection of the Russian flag, would be induced to abstain from so doing, and to remain under that of their native country.