Volume #17 - 596.|
RELATIONS AVEC LE COMMONWEALTH
RELATIONS AVEC DES PAYS PARTICULIERS
SECOURS EN CAS DE FAMINE
Note du sous-secrétaire d'Lftat aux Affaires extérieures|
pour le secrétaire d'État aux Affaires extérieures
le 4 mai 1951|
PROPOSAL FOR NEW OFFER OF WHEAT TO INDIA|
As you know, when we offered wheat to India under the Colombo Plan last February the offer was turned down on the ground that it would "evoke serious public criticism" if low-grade wheat - all we had readily available at the time -were introduced into the Government-operated ration system.49 The Indian Government's very tardy and guarded answer to our offer appeared to reflect domestic political difficulties which they could expect either in accepting low-grade wheat which would have to be sold to the Indian people through the ration system or in finding themselves in the position of rejecting any offer of foodgrains at a time when extreme famine threatened.
2. There seems to be no doubt, on reviewing what took place earlier in the year, that the Indians have handled this question with ineptitude. Nevertheless, in the light of mounting world concern over India's famine, particulars of which will be summarized below, and for important political reasons I propose that consideration be given to opening negotiations for diversion of some wheat of a type acceptable to India for immediate delivery.
3. No wheat is readily available at present, even of a low grade; all that we can supply and ship before October is contracted for by other countries. To make an offer of the sort suggested would involve an approach to the Minister of Trade and Commerce suggesting, in effect, that one or more of our good wheat customers be temporarily displaced in favour of a doubtful one. I think you could certainly expect resistance to this suggestion. To meet it I outline below four points which might be made.
4. The first is that there is a great deal of evidence to show that the famine conditions into which India has now entered are really appalling. Our High Commissioner in New Delhi states that he is profoundly concerned over the seriousness of India's position and feels very strongly that we should do everything in our power "to supply as much wheat as possible of any grades India can use". The Economist, in a most forceful article in its April 21st issue, states that "the suffering, which is only just beginning, will certainly match the horror of five million deaths in the Bengal famine of 1943, and may considerably exceed it."
5. Central food reserves, in recent years inadequate in any case, are apparently down to zero; the famine areas are now literally living from "ship to mouth". The ration is only nine ounces of grain a day (total food per person) and, since April ushered in the period when domestic production seasonally slackens, the maintenance of this scale of ration in the famine areas now depends entirely on imports. Natural disasters have struck with abnormal frequency; there has been a failure of the monsoon for three consecutive years in the principal food-growing provinces and earthquakes, floods, drought and locusts have taken an unusually heavy toll this year. James Thomson, Deputy High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in Ottawa, who knows a good deal about India, says privately that the crisis is so formidable it is not unlikely that a censorship of famine reports might be imposed by the government before long to avoid panic.
6. The second point is that there has been a large volume of press comment both in Canada and the United States on these conditions. In the United States the responsible press have been almost unanimously critical of Congressional delays in passing the India Emergency Assistance Bill. Full page advertisements have appeared in the New York Times; editorials in the Times, Herald Tribune, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Saturday Review and many others have urged action upon Congress and have pointed to the dangers of delay as well as (in the words of the Washington Post) to the denial of American tradition "when a stricken person asks for food, in demanding to know first how he voted in the last election".7. In Canada, while there has not been much press comment on India's failure to take up our offer of wheat under the Colombo Plan, there has been some severe criticism (principally in the Montreal Star and Ottawa Citizen) arising out of an impression that we offered only No. 5 wheat which was unacceptable to the Indians and because we associated our offer with the Colombo Plan.
8. On the other hand opinion on the Colombo Plan itself manifested not only a surprising volume of editorial comment but a remarkable degree of enthusiasm for a Canadian contribution. A press survey made in the Department earlier this year disclosed that seventeen newspapers representing every province had commented editorially and it is noteworthy that the humanitarian aspect was predominant. As you are aware, there has been a fair volume of correspondence from Canadian citizens and organizations on wheat for India. I mention these factors because they would seem to indicate that the domestic political climate is generally favourable to measures for Indian famine relief.
9. The third point I think you could make is the favourable political effect of another offer of wheat throughout the world and specifically in the United States. The question of Indian famine relief is so much to the fore in the United States at present that I believe if it were possible to make this suggested diversion it would yield highly satisfactory political results.
10. The fourth point is that an offer of wheat to India for immediate delivery would undoubtedly exercise a most salutary effect on our relations not only with India but with all of South and South-East Asia. India has been negotiating with Peiping and Moscow for food-grains but apparently conditions have been imposed which may not be acceptable and in any case the good faith of the offers is in some doubt.50 Nevertheless, it is by no means certain that in desperation India will not be forced to accept proposals from these sources. In the absence of any acceptable offers from the West, it is disturbing to consider what the political effects of a "deal" with China or Russia might be.
11. If these points can be successfully made, there remain difficulties in financing and transportation. Although Cabinet has already agreed to offer wheat to India under the Colombo Plan, you may now feel like asking for further funds to finance a wheat gift separately. There is a lot to be said, we think, for treating long-term development projects in South and South-East Asia on a different financial basis from emergency famine relief. The Government's offer under the Colombo Plan, while entirely defensible, has caused some misunderstanding of its motives and some resulting criticism.
12. The question of transportation raises two problems. One is ocean shipping and the other box-cars. Both are in short supply. I would suggest that with respect to the former, we might explore the possibility of enlisting support from the United Kingdom. The problem of box-cars would have to be dealt with by the Department of Trade and Commerce in collaboration with the Department of Transport.
13. Perhaps the greatest difficulty of all will be to explain why the Indians did not come forward to take No. 5 wheat when it was available. As you know, our grain experts do not regard No. 5 wheat as technically unmillable for Indian purposes as has been alleged in some quarters and as implied by Banerjee's public statement at the time No. 5 wheat was declined. Nevertheless, in view of its rejection I think we must conclude that, in effect, No. 5 wheat is unsuitable for India's use. The unsuitability factor may well be bound up with the extreme national sensitivity of the Indian people. It may even be that they feel "too proud to eat" if it means accepting grain which Western people are accustomed to feeding to their animals. Thomson admits that this is a valid point. In any event, it would now be very difficult for the Indians to reverse their position and say that No. 5 wheat is acceptable.
14. I should emphasize in conclusion that if you think there is merit in this suggestion, action would have to be initiated at once. The peak of the famine is the period April to late July or August. There would thus be no purpose in making arrangements which would not have the effect of delivering wheat to India until after this period, when stocks will rise normally. In order to achieve concrete results it would be necessary to divert wheat that is actually moving at present.
15. Mr. Howe, I know, likes to handle wheat questions through his own Department. But, if he agrees to diversions, he might prefer that the diplomatic missions should be used in approaching wheat customers from whom these diversions would have to be made if this proposal were accepted.
16. To summarize, there are three measures of help we can give to India:
(a) "Diversion" of wheat, box-cars and ocean shipping. We can only offer these at the expense of other customers holding firm commitments.
(b) Financial assistance in the purchase of wheat under the Colombo Plan. This offer has already been made but it has become confused with the low-grade wheat issue. We might make the offer again.
(c) Financial assistance separate from the Colombo Plan.
17. If you approve of this plan, the first step would be to discuss the question of diversion with Mr. Howe. If he is agreeable, the form of the financing (b or c above) could subsequently be considered.51
49 Voir le document 563./See Document 563.
50 Note marginale :/Marginal note:
51 Note marginale :/Marginal note: OK L.B.P[earson].