10 APRIL 1964, Page 4

Sea of Troubles

MHE Government must have thought its I troubles with resale price maintenance were nearly over. It is hard that after struggling to abolish it on land, they should now find them- selves having to defend the same principle at sea. Though the American Federal Maritime Commission seems temporarily to have backed down from its more extreme demands to European ship-owners, its blusterings should not conceal that there are real problems urgently awaiting discussion. The Commission took its stand on the intolerable principle that one nation should be able to exercise unilateral control over an international industry. It could in fact have produced a much better case for reform.

Clearly the ship-owner must enter into 'con- ferences' as being the only way to ensure economic regular scheduled services. Equally clearly this system can lead to abuse and discrimination. The basic question is that sonic countries see shipping merely as the means of getting their exports abroad, while others regard the carrying trade as a revenue-raising industry in itself. So long as only a few countries indulge in it they will seem to make an undue profit at the expense of other nations, but once more countries seek to build up and use their own fleets freight charges, and State subsidies, will inevitably rise. The Russians and the East Europeans have been building up their own fleets for some time, and there are signs that as her foreign trade grows China is seeking to do the same. Now that the

Americans are in danger of setting the bad pre- cedent of flag discrimination, not only for economic but for political reasons also, other countries could quickly follow.

It is up to the ship-owners to keep their prices down and their practices scrupulously fair. But the shippers too, and their governments. need some say, otherwise a situation could quickly develop where there are far too many ships and not nearly enough cargoes. The carrying trade, like communications on land, needs some plan- ning. At least the current dispute should lead to a greater a . reness of this problem.