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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 60

Dunedin Chamber of Commerce. — Report of the Sub Committee — Working of the Customs Tariff

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Dunedin Chamber of Commerce.

Report of the Sub Committee

Working of the Customs Tariff.

The Sub-Committee having carefully perused the Tariff, and inquired into the various decisions given under it from time to time, came to the conclusion that the only satisfactory basis for such a report as this would be the evidence of experts. It was therefore made known that we required information, and would be prepared to take the evidence of any one desiring to give it. A ready response was given, and a large number of gentlemen connected with the various classes of importing houses in the city were examined.

After a careful consideration of the evidence before us, we have to report as follows:—
1.That anomalies exist in the Tariff which are a constant source of trouble to both importers and the Customs officers.
2.That many of the decisions given under it are inconsistent and contradictory.
3.That goods in many instance are dutiable or exempt according to the purposes for which they are said to be intended to be used.
4.That similar goods may be subject to duty at one port, and admitted free to another; and that from the nature of things this cannot be always guarded against, however careful and expert officers may be.
5.That the uncertainty whether goods will be considered subject to duty or not frequently causes loss to the importers, as such goods are necessarily withheld from sales, pending the decision of the head of the department at Wellington.

We consider that a few alterations in the Tariff, whereby the classification would be simplified, and a strict adherence to its provisions in its administration would prevent much loss of time and labour to both importers and Customs officers, and remove most, if not all, the present perplexing anomalies, without in any way interfering with the principle on which it is based.

We attach a summary of the evidence on which our report is based, arranged under general headings, which we commend to your careful attention.

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This class of imports is more affected than any other by the ambiguity of the Tariff, arising from the constant introduction of new fabrics which tax the knowledge of the Customs officers to say whether duty should be charged or not; the variety of purposes for which the same article can be used; the difficulty of arriving at the exact proportion of wool or cotton contained in certain manufactures, etc.

As it is often a very nice point whether goods are free or dutiable, different conclusions are arrived at at different ports, resulting in the same goods varying nearly 20 per cent, in value throughout the Colony.

As it is the custom in this trade to sell goods to arrive it is often found that the profit is swept away owing to duty being levied on arrival upon goods which appeared to the importer rightly exempt.

The following examples will help to illustrate what is complained of:—


These goods in checks and stripes are specified in the Tariff as free; but plain, in the same article, not being mentioned, are charged as dutiable.

Prussian Binding.

Has until lately been admitted free as tailor's trimmings, but by a late decision black only was admitted free and colours made dutiable, and by a still later decision all are pronounced dutiable. The same firm imported these into two different ports, paying duty at one and getting them in free at another.

Italian Cloth.

Cotton Italians by the Tariff are dutiable, while union Italians are free. Both these are used exclusively for the same purposes. This anomaly causes the superior article to be sold at a lower price than the common one.

Hair Seating.

The Tariff specifies that hair-seating is free, while a common article, called imitation hair-seating, and used for the same purpose exactly, is dutiable.


Some are dutiable and some free, but it is impossible to distinguish between tailor's and dressmaker's buttons, as several kinds are used by both. The labour attending the examination of a case, gross by gross, is enormous and never satisfactory.


The same thing applies to braids.

Cotton Dress Prints.

This is a very troublesome item, though in the Tariff it is clearly and explicitly stated as free. Most perplexing exceptions have been made from time to time, and now a number of materials declared free by the Tariff are dutiable. Customs officers are often influenced in their decisions by the colour, or the finish, or the pattern, as these are the only difference between one cotton print and another, and are constantly varying.
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Dowlas for aprons and boot lining is dutiable, whereas


the commoner article, called flax-sheeting, is admitted free. In this class the mere stamping of a name on it makes it dutiable or free.
Blue twill is admitted free, but Turkey twill is

Blue Twill.

charged duty, the only difference being the color.
The better qualities of American leather are admitted

American Leather

free, while duty is charged on the lower qualities.
The Commissioner of Customs has extended the

Coloured Cotton Shirtings.

exemption from duty to union shirtings containing not more than 50 per cent of wool. It is impossible to say what are the exact proportions of wool and cotton. This is a most perplexing decision, and the source of much injustice and irritation. One witness stated that his firm has just been compelled to pay duty on a quantity of coloured cotton shirtings, on the plea that the quality was better than usual. A protest had been lodged, of course, and might in time be allowed, or legal proceedings might secure a return of the 16½ per cent, wrongly levied, but meantime the goods cannot be sold, and a serious loss to consignees arises.
Baskets are free in the Tariff, but by a decision all


baskets are charged duty, except such as can be made in the Colony, which are free.
Blind cord and tape are dutiable, while blind webbing

Blind Cord and Tape.

and other upholsterers' materials are free.
Stay-makers' materials are duty free. The difficulty of

Stay-makers' Materials.

deciding what ought to be admitted under this head is often met with. As a matter of fact a very insignificant trade is done by stay-makers, but most of the material that could be used will frequently be imported free and used for other purposes. Many things can be used for stay-making, but very little is used.
Upholsterers' trimmings are free on the Tariff, yet

Upholsterers' Trimmings.

duty is charged upon chair gimp, tufts, and bed lace, which are exclusively used for upholstery work.
It appears this article, when entered as "tailors'


Hessian," is free, while as a matter of fact very little is used by tailors, and the great bulk, which is imported by warehousemen, is subject to duty.


While all spades and shovels are free, earth scoops,

Spades and Shovels,

which are simply a kind of shovel, are dutiable.
Sail-makers' eyelets, which are ship chandlery, and


therefore ought as such to be free, are charged duty.
Lathe bands are free, while duty is charged on hooks

Lathe Bands.

and eyes, which can be used in connection with nothing else.
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Hawbroline is admitted free as ship chandlery, while house-line, which is used for other similar purposes, and is so like that none hut an expert can tell the difference, is charged duty.

Colonial Ovens.

Fittings for making Colonial ovens are dutiable, while all other tinsmiths' fittings are free.

Reaping Hooks.

Reaping hooks are dutiable, while scythes are free.


Picks are dutiable, while shovels and spades are free.


Similar sizes of tinsmiths' rivets and coopers' rivets are so much alike that none but an expert can tell the difference, yet, while tinsmiths' rivets are free, all other boiler rivets are dutiable.


Bolts and nuts are free, while washers, which are only used in connection with them, are dutiable.


Clout tacks are admitted free, while cut tacks are dutiable.

Hobble Chains.

Though these are saddlers' ironmongery, and as such ought to be free under that heading, yet duty is charged upon them.


The recent decisions affecting brewing plant and machinery seem inconsistent.

Lawn Mowers.

These are free, while garden rollers and hand grass cutters are dutiable.

Brass Work.


Service cocks and angle cocks are free, while bib cocks are subject to duty—the whole of them being used for the same purposes.


Part steam engines, such as peat valves, oil cup, tallow cups, etc., are said to be brought in free as such, while they are largely used for other purposes, and ought to come in as brass manufactures, and subject to duty.

Those interested in this business complain of the evasion of duty by some importers, resulting in the loss of revenue to the country, and strongly urge the assimilation of duties.

Wines and Spirits.

Importers of these goods complain of a recent regulation, which allows one sample only to be taken from a shipment in wood, instead of a sample from each cask as was previously allowed. This restriction is all the more vexatious, as each cask has to be gauged, and a sample taken out of the cask for the purpose of ascertaining the strength. A sample from each cask is necessary to enable the importer to examine the character of the shipment, as it frequently occurs that the contents of a parcel of the same brand, more particularly of whisky and brandy, vary page 5 in quality and colour. Since the recent regulation has been in force, considerable inconvenience has been occasioned by the cancellation of sales on account of a shipment varying somewhat from the sample drawn by the Customs.

The practice followed here with regard to samples is different from that adopted by the neighbouring Colonies, where there is evidently more consideration given to the requirements and convenience of importers.

The Committee trusts that the Conference in Wellington will cause the recent regulation restricting importers to one sample from a shipment of spirits to be withdrawn, and arrange that samples of spirits and wines should be allowed duty free to the extent of one pint from each quarter-cask, and one bottle from each parcel of cases, if required by the consignee.

Some means should be taken by the Customs to regulate the gauging of the quantity and strength of case spirits, so that all consignees should be put on a uniform footing. By the present system it frequently occurs, for example, that two parcels of Hennessy's brandy arriving to different consignees by the same ship, which, although invoiced of the same contents, are yet assessed by the Customs one parcel a gill, or even two gills, more than the other.

The attention of the Committee has been called to the serious loss and inconvenience caused to importers by inconsiderate alterations of the Tariff. The following will illustrate what is complained of:—

Towards the end of the session of 1880 an Act to alter the Customs Tariff was passed, providing, among other things, that on and after 1st March, 1881 (thus giving six months' notice), duty on case spirits should be charged on the reputed contents: that is to say, cases of geneva—which should contain four gallons, instead of under three gallons, to which the competition of trade has reduced them, and cases of brandy and whisky, which are supposed to contain two gallons each, but which are imported at several gills under that quantity—should be charged duty on four gallons and two gallons respectively, thus doing away with the inducement to import small contents.

Importers here hailed the change as a step in the right direction, and made the necessary arrangements for importing only full contents; but, to their dismay, towards the end of the session of 1881 the clause in the Act of the previous year, providing for duty being charged on the reputed contents of case spirits, was repealed without warning, involving all those who had observed the requirements of the Act in serious loss.

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Under this head we would suggest that samples should be allowed duty free to the extent of a half-pound for ten cases of each quality and make, if required by the consignee.

In making the foregoing suggestions the Committee wish it to be clearly understood that they do not in any way intend to reflect on the Custom House officials here, whose uniform courtesy and consideration to importers the Committee very gladly acknowledge.

Thomas Brown

, Convener. Dunedin,

Printed at the Evening Star Office, Bond street, Dunudin.