The Bullinger Pool in Burma, 1921 to the mid-1930s
One of the most important developments in the history of the rice trade of colonial Burma was the creation of the Bullinger Pool in 1921, a combination of four large British milling and export firms based on a common price policy for the purchase and sale of paddy and rice. These firms dominated the rice trade at a time when paddy was the “true currency” of the country [Binns 1948:50]: as the source of livelihood for the majority and the form of payment for rent, loans, and wages. The collective position of the four companies—Steel Bros. and Co., Ltd., Bulloch Bros. and Co., Ltd., Ellerman’s Arracan Rice and Trading Co., Ltd., and Anglo-Burma Rice Co., Ltd.—reached such magnitude in the rice trade that by the 1930s, the conglomerate had become the subject of a legislative inquiry and the object of organized Burmese protest. The accusation against the Pool was that it manipulated prices in order to rake in huge profits, especially at the time of economic depression in the early 1930s. Even if the allegations of what one today might consider unfair trade practice were officially dismissed, as they were, the paper demonstrates that the Pool’s primary advantage, especially its access to paddy supplies, was the cornerstone of its position in the rice trade, making any measure of control plausible at the least. Since the relationship between paddy and rice prices was crucial to the industry’s pricing mechanism, the existence of a combination to set prices for both paddy and rice in the local market made the industry vulnerable to manipulation.
JEL classification: N75
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