Imperial Preference

Imperial Preference
   Ideas for a British imperial tariff that became popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Ideas for Imperial Preference took many specific forms, but in general imports from outside the Empire would be taxed at a higher rate than those from within the imperial tariff wall. Most famously advocated by the then-colonial secretary and enthusiastic imperialist Joseph Chamberlain in a speech of May 1903, the idea had support primarily in Tory circles. For many supporters, an Imperial Zollverein on the German model would serve as a precursor to closer imperial integration, possibly including imperial political and representative institutions. The doctrine of free trade, however, had an almost iconic status in British politics, and proposals to set up a British tariff wall excited great opposition, particularly but not solely among Liberals and Laborites. It caused deep fissures even within the Tory party, and contributed to the marginalization of Chamberlain in his later years. The idea of Imperial Preference had some impact on politics in the Dominions, although colonial statesmen were jealous of local control of trade policy for both revenue and protective purposes. Imperial Preference became something of a standby at interwar Commonwealth conferences, but the practical difficulties in the way of reconciling local autonomy with a centrally administered tariff policy were insuperable.
    Pigou, A. C. Protective and Preferential Import Duties. London: Macmillan, 1906.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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