November 30, 1909 (11th Parliament, 2nd Session)

LIB

William Stevens Fielding (Minister of Finance and Receiver General)

Liberal

Mr. FIELDING.

Yes, that was the point. Our contention, up to a certain point, was that, unless the country had the whole tariff, it could not claim that privilege. As I have said, they were able to show that, under somewhat similar conditions in the administration of their own custom laws, they recognized the principle that if there was favourable treatment as respects that one article the privilege should be given in relation to that article as though they had the benefit of the whole tariff. They urged us very strongly to agree to that. From our own point of view it did not seem a matter of very much importance. What we were aiming at was the cultivation of direct transatlantic trade. We desired the French goods to come direct from France to Canada. If they were to come through any other country, we would naturally prefer that they should come through Great Britain. But if the goods should come through the ports of any European country having a treaty with Canada, they would still be direct trans-atlantic shipments. While we preferred they should come by Britain, the vital matter, according to our views, was that the goods should come direct across the Atlantic to a Canadian port. According to our interpretation, Switzerland, being entitled to the benefit of the treaty, could only send her goods by way of Great Britain, because Great Britain alone had the complete preferential tariff. Under the interpretation which the French claimed, and which Switzerland was anxious to have, Switzerland could send any article under the treaty by way of Havre, a French port, because under our treaty France would have the benefit of the intermediate tariff as regards that article. If, for instance, Switzerland wanted_ to send a parcel of silks, under our first interpretation she would have to send it to a British port; under the later interpretation she could send it to a French port, because France has the benefit of our intermediate tariff as regards that article. Under either

interpretation, that would be accomplished which we principally desired-direct trade with Canada. As France thought it important, and as it did not seem to affect our policy in any material way, we came to the conclusion that we would accept the French interpretation. But I thought that, in view of what had occurred in this parliament, I should point out to the French government that we had given a different interpretation in parliament and that therefore the agreement I was disposed to make with them would be subject to the reservation that if on inquiry we found further legislation was necessary we should make the matter subject to revision by the parliament of Canada. However, on my return from France, having brought the matter to the notice of the Department of Justice in a more formal way, we asked if further legislation was necessary to enable _ us to accept the interpretation of that clause respecting direct shipment. AfteT consideration, the department advised that it was not necessary to legislate on the question, that if the customs authorities saw fit to give that interpretation, they could do so and still be within their legal rights. Therefore, we have not. proposed legislation on this point. It will be observed that the British government accepted our interpretation of the clause given in the first place as the correct one, though, at the same time, intimating that the' point was not free from doubt. Seeing that it was a point to which our French friends attached importance, and that it did not affect, our chief purpose of having direct transatlantic trade with Canada, we decided to accept that, interpretation, and, under the advice of the Department of Justice, we have concluded that that can be done without further legislation.

Topic:   W. S. FIELDING.
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