Three problems would arise with regard to perishable commodities in the event of war: the need to secure maximum supplies for the United Kingdom, the need for more orderly marketing2 to secure equitable distribution of food which would probably be in short page 41 supply in the United Kingdom, and the need for extra storage capacity in New Zealand against the possibility of shipping delays.
Preparations for bulk purchasing by the United Kingdom of exportable surpluses of food were well advanced when war broke out. The steps which were taken are conveniently summarised in a report by Walter Nash as Minister of Marketing:1
‘Pre-war action in the United Kingdom
‘In the United Kingdom the Food (Defence Plans) Department, then a Department of the Board of Trade (but later on to become the Ministry of Food), was set up in 1936. In June of that year,2 Dominion Ministers then being present in London for the Imperial Conference, the opportunity was taken by the United Kingdom Government to make a first approach to the question of possible war-time purchases of supplies from New Zealand. It was indicated that, in the event of war, the United Kingdom Government might become the sole purchaser of imported foodstuffs, and in this connection meat and dairy produce was specifically mentioned.
‘At this time it was also indicated that fresh fruit would not be especially controlled, and would therefore have to take its chance in the ordinary way.
‘Again, in August of 1938, at which time the crisis over Czechoslovakia was developing, the United Kingdom Government submitted through the New Zealand High Commissioner a more detailed memorandum outlining plans for food control in the event of war—this envisaged the bulk purchase of meat and dairy produce on long term contracts. This memorandum also stated (with special reference to New Zealand) that “since the New Zealand Government now acts as the sole exporter of butter and cheese and the New Zealand Meat Producers' Board regulates the shipments of meat, it would be a simple matter to inaugurate both contracts in the event of war”.
‘Again, as in the case of the preliminary discussions at the time of the Imperial Conference, questions of prices and quantities were left for detailed negotiation should hostilities actually commence.
‘This August 1938 memorandum, having been examined by the New Zealand Government, was accepted in principle by the Prime Minister on the 28th February 1939, and the United Kingdom Government was advised to this effect.page 42
‘In June 1939, early after the arrival of the Minister of Finance in London and when the European situation was again deteriorating, discussions were resumed at the instance of the Food (Defence Plans) Department in the United Kingdom. On this occasion it was again reiterated that dairy produce and meat must take priority in any direct purchase from New Zealand, whilst fresh fruit could be exported as long as shipping space was available. Tentative discussions were also held between Board of Trade Officials and the Minister concerning the possible purchase of New Zealand's wool clip, although this subject could only be broadly discussed as a possibility at that time.
‘Pre-war action in New Zealand
‘Simultaneously with these various pre-war conferences which were taking place in London, general plans were under discussion in New Zealand for the purpose of ensuring the efficient and prompt export of the Dominion's exportable surplus of primary products to the United Kingdom in the event of war. These discussions were commenced as far back as 1937 within the general framework of the Organisation for National Security, which had been set up by this time. It was agreed that the Marketing Department could well form the nucleus of whatever organisation would be required in the event of an outbreak of war and the bulk purchase of primary products by the United Kingdom Government. The Dominion was therefore already well equipped to meet the emergency and to commence detailed negotiations immediately war did commence on 3rd September.
‘Commencement of Negotiations
‘Pre-war discussions between the United Kingdom and the New Zealand Governments by way of exchange of cables and by personal conferences in London between the Minister of Marketing and the Ministry of Food had already prepared the ground for such immediate action as would be necessary to take in regard to the acquisition of New Zealand products by the United Kingdom Government in the event of war being declared. After the outbreak of war the United Kingdom Government cabled through the New Zealand High Commissioner (on the 5th September 1939, in the case of meat, and on the 6th September in the case of dairy-produce) stating that they were prepared to buy New Zealand's “entire exportable surplus for twelve months of frozen beef, mutton, lamb, and edible offals” and “export surplus, being shipments up to the 31st July 1940” page 43 of butter and cheese. In reply the New Zealand Government cabled within twenty-four hours stating their willingness to consider an f.o.b. purchase of the total surplus of these products by the United Kingdom Government.’
This was an example of pre-war economic planning which was immediately effective when war broke out. The state of preparations for extra storage of perishable produce to meet possible shipping delays was in marked contrast.
2 Except for dairy products, where bulk purchase arrangements already existed as part of the guaranteed price scheme.
1 Parliamentary Paper H-30b, 1940, p. 2.
2 Sic. 1937. The Imperial Conference was in May and June 1937.