Decolonization in the Rubber Trade, 1946-54

Rohan de Soysa

Tony Donaldson’s essay in valedictory recognition of Tony Peries generated a short memorandum[1] from one of my friends in Colombo, namely Rohan de Soysa, son of Terence de Soysa.[2] This note adds significant information on early steps in the process of decolonization and the breaking away from Britain’s stranglehold over the commodity trade. It is therefore presented as an essay in its own right –a move welcomed by Tony Donaldson. I have taken the liberty of imposing highlights by way of emphasis. Michael Roberts as Editor Thuppahi.

sl-china-stamps Picture shows the Commemorative Stamp issued to mark the 50 years of signing the Rubber Rice Pact.
The Terence de Soysa referred to [in Tony Donaldson’s article] as a ‘very clever rubber trader’ by Tony Peiris, was my father. He had organised a consortium and bought CWM {CW Mackie & Co] in 1946 or so, before Independence, the first major British company to be Ceylonised.He related how he came to office one morning and found a telex on his desk from a Hong Kong agent offering to pay 8 old pence per pound more than the market price of 40d (20%) if he would ship to Red China. None of the other rubber producing countries, for e. g. Thailand, Malaysia, would sell. Ceylon also was a friend of America so my father was in a quandary.

Having ascertained it was not a joke, he went and met the PM, DS Senanayake, and asked him what action to take as China was at war with America in Korea.  DS had asked him, “Terence is it good for our country?” Upon being told it was very good, DS told him to go ahead as it was in our interest to do so.

After making the first shipment, my father called a meeting of all the rubber shippers, at the Rowing Club I believe, and informed them of the situation. He proposed to divide the shipments among all of them according to their percentage of shipments abroad in the previous year, reserving a slightly higher percentage for CWM, to which all agreed.

This was the foundation stone, it could be said, of the later Rubber-Rice pact. Subsequently, the government of a later time took over the rubber shipments to China and the quality of rubber shipped deteriorated.

In 1985 when my father, then resident in UK, was visiting here Karu Jayasuriya, who was the MD of CWM spoke to the Chinese who invited my parents to visit China. My mother wanted to return to UK as she was worried about her plants (!) so I went with him instead.

China was not much developed and Beijing had hardly any cars but did have millions of bikes. Of cars I recall seeing only three. I was amazed how so many bikes could ride so close together and never touch. The Chinese showed us some recent rubber received and said it was supposed to be grade1, but it was not even grade 3!


ADDENDUM: A Note from Tony Donaldson, 22 February 2017

There all sorts of doors that can be opened here. For example

–  geopolitical rivals between Western interests and China and how the government of Sri Lanka manages it, particularly in relation to trade.

– the movement in SL towards nonaligned movements as a counterpoint to western interests and agendas

I find it interesting that the SL govt could be persuaded by America not to export tea to Iran but not be persuaded to investigate and be accountable for human rights abuses in SL. So they will yield to some agendas like stopping exporting tea which hurts the SL economy but not HR although the situation is improving…

  ***   ***


*  Wijayawantha Ukwatte: China-Ceylon Rubber-Rice Pact National & International (Impact Paperback– October 10, 2014)

  • JB Kelegama: “The Significance of the Ceylon-China Trade Agreement of 1952,” Island, 22 December 20o2,


[1]  Rohan’s NOTE begins thus: “Thank you Michael. Most interesting. I met Tony Donaldson when he visited the Sapumal a couple of years ago, He had written an appreciation of Richard Gabriel which was reproduced in our papers. I cannot recall ever meeting Tony Peries but did know his brother-in-law Tony Fernando well.”

[2] The late Terence de Soysa was from the famous Warusahannadige de Soysa lineage going back to Jeronis and Susew de Soysa in the 19th century  (see C. Don Bastian,  De Soysa Charitaya (Colombo, 1904); Rupa de Soysa The De Soysaof Alfred House (Colombo, 2016, restricted pvt circulation); and Roberts, Caste Conflict and Elite Formation. The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, (1982, CUP)


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3 responses to “Decolonization in the Rubber Trade, 1946-54

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