The British Imperial Expansion

The British Imperial Expansion

Individual empire countries for their part were still very pleased to have a ready market for their production in Britain but a number of the dominions were looking for new market opportunities, as well as obtaining an increasing amount of manufactured products from countries other than Britain. The weaker colonies of course generally remained heavily dependent upon Britain. “As to Britain’s imports the first four decades of the twentieth century showed a marked swing to the empire, after the relative stability of the nineteenth century. Foreign suppliers (led by the United States) still remained stronger, but were declining.”16 Apart from iron, steel and coal, other metals such as copper, lead, zinc and tin were also gaining intrinsic value, with the Empire again yielding up great wealth in the twentieth century. But as Britain failed to take advantage of some of this wealth before the 1914-18 war, Belgium and Germany bought Australian lead and zinc concentrates and the United States Canadian nickel. Germany also processed tungsten reserves from Burma, Australia and Malaya. The war showed Britain the folly of this neglect and increasingly in the 1920s and 1930s British industrialists bought directly from colonial producers rather than from German and other intermediaries. The British also became more active in the exploitation of empire wealth, such as Northern Rhodesian copper.

Britain had not, however, neglected the values of Malaya’s tin which dominated the world market and she was successfully exploiting this both before and after the war. The main mineral deficiency throughout the empire was in oil products and iron ore, but Britain’s interest in the Middle East in the twentieth century was designed to counteract the oil problem. In the case of Britain’s exports, again she looked more closely to the empire as her main outlet, since foreign markets were being lost either by her being shut out or because she failed to meet foreign competition. By the 1930s the empire was becoming the vital outlet for her industrial goods. “India was the main buyer, followed by Australia although South Africa made a temporary surge in the 1930s. The main foreign buyer was the United States. The closer empire tie for British exports was not, however, reciprocated by the individual colonies.”17 Canada, for example, was more dependent upon the United States than upon Britain for her manufactures. Ceylon together with Australia in the twentieth century obtained more of their imports from sources other than Britain. Moreover, some of the West Indies islands were also choosing American suppliers over British. During the twentieth century as it progressed more and more well established economies kept cutting down Britain’s share of their imports, while there was generally some increase in the empire share as well as in the foreign share. Although there was in most cases a slight British recovery just after 1925, by mid 1930s the decline set in again. “Even in the dependent empire there was a growing swing away from British manufacturers: Malaya, for example, looking to foreign and empire sources, Ceylon to empire sources and Hong Kong to foreign sources. By contrast West Africa still looked to Britain.”18

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