Malta and the Nineteenth Century Grain Trade: British free trade in a microcosm of Empire?
It is often assumed that Britain’s colonies followed the British doctrine of free trade in the second half of the nineteenth century. Malta, which became a British colony in 1814, did indeed become an early free trader. However, she failed to liberalize the grain trade, even when the mother country famously repealed the Corn Laws. This paper documents that although institutions changed over the years, the ad valorem equivalents of the duties on wheat did not. The reason for this seems to be that administrators were convinced that is was not possible to fund government spending in any other way. The duties on grain in Malta were therefore not protectionist, but rather for revenue purposes, in contrast to the UK Corn Laws. Taxing an inelastic demand for foreign wheat by Maltese, who were unable to grow enough food to support themselves, was certainly an effective way of raising revenue, but probably not the fairest one, as contemporaries were well aware.
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