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The Economist

The foreign trade of Italy in 1908

«The Economist», 6 marzo 1909, pp. 511-512

 

 

 

The statistics of Italy’s foreign trade for the year 1908, which have been published recently, writes a Turin correspondent, disclose an increase in the total trade apart from the precious metals, a rise in the imports having more than counterbalanced a decrease in the exports:

 

 

(000’s Omitted Precious Metals not Considered)

 

 

 

1905

Lire

1906

Lire

1907

Lire

1908

Lire

 
Imports

2,015,775

2,514,351

2,880,669

3,030,940

Exports

1,705,317

1,905,949

1,948,868

1,858,257

Total

3,721,092

4,420,301

4,829,537

4,889,198

Excess of imports over export

310,458

608,402

931,801

1,172,683

 

 

These figures have excited great alarm in certain quarters, mainly protectionist, which predicted ruin to our country. But the alarms are injustified as, notwithstanding the great deficit in the commercial balance, there has been a continuous inflow of precious metals. In these, official statistics show a surplus of imports as follows:

 

 

 

Lire

 

1905

161,318,000

1906

133,432,600

1907

162,332,600

1908

7,040,400

 

 

It is clear that Italy has continued to have a surplus of imports without losing a single lira of her monetary capital. The Bank of Italy has in recent years greatly added to her metallic reserves, and has gained a prominent place among the European banks of issue. The surplus of imports has been paid for by remittances from Italian emigrants in the United States, Argentina, and elsewhere, and by the money spent by foreign tourists. In 1908 the American crisis reduced both the emigrants’ remittances and the number of foreign visitors. It may be added that the figures of the 1908 surplus of imports are misleading, as they are provisional figures, while the 1905, 1906, and 1907 figures are ultimate. The 1908 figures are, indeed, calculated on the 1907 values basis; whereas, in fact, 1908 was a year of falling prices. A rough approximation gives 2,730 millions of imports and 1,800 millions of exports, a total trade of 4,530 millions, or a fall of 300 millions from the high level of 1907; and the surplus of imports shrinks to 930 million lire. If we analyse the import figures, we find that the greatest increase of the quantity entered has been in animals and animal products, which increased from 174 to 273 million lire, in minerals, metals, and machinery, from 655 to 676 million lire, in spirits, oils, and various drinks, from 50 to 65 millions. The greatest decreases in imports had been in railway and other cars, from 65 to 50 millions, in silk (mainly finished) from 249 to 238, and in cotton from 340 to 327 millions. The greatest decrease in our exports has been in flour, macaroni, &c, from 294 to 260 millions, in silk from 673 to 644 millions, in cotton (textiles) from 143 to 121 millions. But the purchasing power of the masses has been unimpaired, as may be seen from the growing imports of alcohol, and, above all, from the increasing meat consumption, for which the Italian agriculturist is unable to provide. Already some quantity of Australian and Argentine frozen meat has been imported at Genoa; and there is an increasing outlet for that industry in our country. I end with a table of our trade with the principal foreign countries in 1908 (in lire, 000’s omitted):

 

 

 

Import from

Exports to

Germany

549,012

275,714

Great Britain

534,825

134,244

United States

407,022

223,456

France

298,073

222,294

Austria-Hungary

306,911

149,803

Switzerland

89,528

339,120

 

 

These figures are useful to indicate the relative position of various countries in the foreign trade of Italy; but they do not agree with the official foreign statistics for many reasons which would be too long to detail here.

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