to Mr. Bayard.
Stockholm, December 4, 1885. (Received December 19.)
Sir: For the past two years there has been quite an animated and earnest discussion in this Kingdom of the subject of free trade and protection. Practically the policy of the Government has been that of free trade; but the very great depression of all agricultural and other industrial interests throughout the Kingdom, has led to the agitation by these various interests of the question of placing protective duties on all imported agricultural products as well as certain of the manufactured products of other countries.[Page 839]
A somewhat prolonged contest over the proposition took place last year in the Riksdag; the protectionist strength was unexpectedly large although the proposition was finally beaten.
In the interim, since adjournment, the question has been very generally discussed in the press and in other ways until there has been quickened a very active and zealous spirit for and against the proposed change.
Recently in the south of Sweden, the most important and considerable agricultural region in the Kingdom, meetings have been held for the purpose of eliciting an expression from those engaged in producing the articles most affected by the proposed duty, as to the policy of such a course. So far such expression has been adverse to any meddling with existing laws upon the subject. Last year a different sentiment prevailed in this same section.
The United Kingdom is unable to produce sufficient food supplies for her population, and is compelled to depend to some extent upon foreign supplies to meet the wants of her people. The lands suitable for agricultural purposes, as compared with the total area, is but a small per cent., while the manufacturing and mechanical industries that might be temporarily affected beneficially by the imposition of a tariff duty on foreign manufactured articles imported into the Kingdom are not very extensive.
With the exception of England, all surrounding Governments have protective tariffs, and the argument on the part of the protectionists is that the imposition of such a tariff by Sweden would be but in the line of a spirit of fair trade or retaliation.
That element in national politics which is adverse to continuing the union with Norway is in favor of protection, so far as the newspapers give expression to public sentiment on this subject, bat it is neither the influential nor numerically the strongest party in the Kingdom.
There is little apprehension on the part of the governmental party that any law proposing an imposition of tariff duties can be carried, and if there were soon to be any material revival of business interests there would practically be an end to the discussion.
The business men here look with great anxiety towards the improvement in business in the United States, informing me that good business in the States makes good business in Sweden; but up to the present there has been no substantial realization of their hopes. The disturbed condition of affairs in the Balkan states affects very perceptibly the business interests of this city, although it has increased the manufacture of the Nordenfeldt gun and other specialties used in war.
America supplies this country with its meats, while Russia and Germany furnish the breadstuff’s. I have made some considerable effort to induce importers to try American breadstuff’s, believing the superiority in manufacture and cheapness of production would at least enable them to compete with Russian and German products; but it requires time to induce a Swede to change from the settled policy of years. They are extremely conservative in the matter of trade and are not given to trying new experiments.
Corn is used only for the purpose of distillation, the entire supply of which comes from the United States.
Great quantities of canned meats are used, all of which come from America; but at present there is such a custom regulation that the aggregate of imports is not what it would be if the imposition were more favorable.
The present regulation requires the can to be pierced before removing from the custom-house, otherwise a rate of 10 ore, equal to about 2¾ cents, per pound is levied and collected.[Page 840]
The piercing of the can frequently results in destroying the meat, and hence not only lessens the quantity imported, but adds materially to its selling value. These canned meats are used almost exclusively by the poorer classes, who can ill afford to pay the enhanced cost, and this has led to a discussion of the subject which may result in some dietical action of the same.
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The questions of national unity, tariffs, and kindred subjects will take no definite shape until after the meeting of the Riksdag, which will be in January.
I have, &c.,