31 Attlee to Chifley

Cablegram 16 LONDON, 15 January 1946, 5.29 p.m.


1. My colleagues and I are gravely concerned about the prospective world shortage of wheat. You know, I think, that Sir Ben Smith, the Minister of Food, has been in Washington recently to discuss the situation with the United States Administration and with the President.

2. Very briefly, world import requirements exceed by at least 5 and half million tons the amount of wheat which we can at present rely upon from the four main exporting countries during the period from 1st January to 30th June, 1946. In order to bridge the gap it will be necessary to make severe cuts in the amounts asked for by importing countries. Some of these demands could probably have been scaled down a little without causing undue hardship; but the drastic cuts that will be necessary to close this gap will cause real suffering in many countries. Our own requirements here will not be met in full, and we shall find it hard to make the economies needed.

3. The consequences of famine either in Europe or in Asia during the next few months will be very grave. In Europe I am specially concerned about Germany. The ration there is already very low and substantial further cuts will bring starvation and unrest which, apart altogether from humanitarian considerations, will increase our military commitments and retard Europe's economic recovery by reducing the export of essential supplies from Germany, particularly the coal which is so urgently needed. In Asia, I need hardly emphasise the political dangers of famine in India at the present time. in these circumstances it is obviously of vital importance to ensure that maximum quantities are exported from all producing countries.

4. In the calculations that have just been made in Washington covering exports and imports during the six months to the end of June, Australia is being counted upon to export wheat and flour amounting in terms of wheat equivalent to a total of 1,100,000 tons. I believe this is based upon a recent estimate given to the Cereals Committee [1] in Washington by Mr. McCarthy. it would mean the export by Australia of an unusually high proportion of her supplies during this part of the year and the physical collection and movement of this quantity will, I know, present considerable difficulty under present conditions. But the world's need is so urgent that I am sure that the Australian Government will make a supreme effort to achieve this export figure. May I appeal to you to give this matter your personal attention and to let me know whether, as I earnestly hope, we may count upon Australia for this quantity.

1 A committee of the Combined Food Board, established in 1942 to advise on distribution of basic foodstuffs.

[AA:A3195, 1946, 1.1312]