28 MAY 1948, Page 3

Unhealthy Trade

What is the sense of the attempt which the Treasury made last Saturday to explain away the shocking adverse balance of trade revealed two days earlier by the Board of Trade accounts ? If the situation is bad then it is the business of Government officials to say so as plainly as they can. The figures showed that imports ex- ceeded exports in the month of March by L54,500,000. The Treasury pointed out that the record figure of £186,20o,000 for imports in- cluded freight and insurance payable to British firms, that some of the imports had already been paid for and that a large part of the deficit was with soft currency countries. What of it ? If we are importing goods which we cannot really afford does it matter whether we pay for them in March or in December ? If we have an adverse balance with soft currency countries does that make it any the less an adverse balance ? Possibly the.Treasury was trying to point out that certain daily papers had put a rather gloomier construction on the trade figures than was technically justified—which was true but not particularly helpful since those papers did at least realise that an adverse balance on the present scale is leading straight to disaster. Quite certainly and explicitly it tried to divert attention from the overall balance of overseas payments to the narrower problem of stopping the drain on our gold and dollar reserves with which it is much preoccupied. But the central point, from which the Treasury should not divert attention either deliberately or inadvertently is that the exhaustion of our foreign exchange reserves is in sight ; and that being so, the daily press was perfectly right to sound the loudest warning it could.