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imperial preference

imperial preference. This was a favourite nostrum of late 19th- and early 20th-cent. imperialists to bind the empire together by levying lower tariffs on colonial imports than on others. The colonies were supposed to reciprocate. Joseph Chamberlain championed it from 1903. But there was a snag. Britain still adhered to free trade. You cannot grant more preferential tariffs than none at all. Chamberlain wanted a tax on imported corn, to make this possible, but that was rejected at the election of 1906 because it would mean dearer bread. So the imperialists had to wait until 1932, when food import tariffs were introduced generally again, and a series of bilateral agreements negotiated with the dominions and colonies to favour them. Imperial trade increased thereafter, though that may not have been wholly due to this. After the Second World War the policy slowly declined, as a result of American pressure, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (1947), and Britain's adhesion to a rival trading unit—the European Economic Community—in 1973.

Bernard Porter

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