Foreign News: Global Rubber War

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In tropic climes, on opposite sides of the twirling globe, shrewd men watched anxiously, last week, the struggle of Great Britain to maintain her world monopolistic grip on rubber.

From the East Indian realm of plump and prim Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands came challenging news that rubber production there has topped 93,000 tons for 1927*, an increase of almost 400% in five years.

Half 'round the world, in huge Brazil (a land larger than the continental U. S.) another challenge to British rubberdom was being prepared, last week, by bustling agents of Henry Ford. He, grown tired of paying British rubber prices, has purchased an immense tract of land near Belem, northern Brazil, which is now being laid out as a rubber plantation.

A third threat to British rubber supremacy looms in the Negro republic of Liberia, West Africa, where the plantations of Big White Rubberman Harvey Firestone are now in process of producing (TIME, Dec. 20, 1926). Meanwhile, what is being done by Great Britain to defend her grip on rubber?

Despatches from Brazil, last week, told that a British rubber syndicate is about to negotiate for a new plantation close to and competitive with that of Henry Ford. This move was hailed by the Brazilian press of Rio de Janeiro, last week.

With such portents as these in evidence, it is significant to note that while the British Empire produced 67% of the world's rubber in 1922, the percentage fell to 57 last year. This was due, of course, in part, to the curtailment of British rubber production by Parliament under the Stevenson Act. Theoretically this measure was expected to intensify the demand for rubber and consequently raise its price by curtailing the supply. The actual results have been so unsatisfactory that last week a leading British newspaper in Malaya, The Malay Mail, declared: "In many quarters restriction is regarded today as on trial for its life, and unless tangible results are achieved in bringing supply closer to consumption in the near future, the ranks of those prepared to scrap the scheme and give the law of supply and demand free sway are likely to receive a considerable accession of strength."

That this view is coming to be adopted even in London was shown when Prime Minister Baldwin recently appointed a commission to report upon the advisability of repealing or modifying the Stevenson Act (TIME, March 5). Already the price of rubber has fallen in anticipation that the Commission will report against further curtailment; and it seemed last week that the British Empire has been definitely forced out of its monopolistic position in the world rubber market.

* Roughly 1/6 of the World production of 580,000 tons in 1927.