Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 2, 1878
Mr. Stoughton to Mr. Evarts.
St. Petersburg, March 29, 1878. (Received April 17.)
Sir: Referring to your dispatch No. 107, addressed to my predecessor, I have the honor to forward to you herewith copies of the correspondence which has passed between Mr. de Griers and myself upon the subject of discriminating duties imposed in Russia upon the commerce of the United States.
I have, &c.,
Mr. de Criers to Mr. Stoughton.
Sir: By a note dated November 7–19, 1877, Mr. Boker, by order of his government, transmitted to the imperial ministry a copy of a memorial of certain merchants of the United States, calling his attention to certain differences which exist in the Russian [Page 756] tariff, as regards the duties upon merchandise according to its importation by sea or land.
Mr. Boker considered these differences as prejudicial to the interests of the United States, which could maintain a maritime commerce only with Russia, and as contrary to the stipulations of our treaty of commerce with those States, which assures to each country the treatment of the most favored nation.
An exchange of ideas upon this subject, between Mr. Boker and our minister of the finances, had preceded this communication.
In reply to this communication, the imperial ministry thinks it proper now to inform your excellency that we are of the same opinion as that expressed by Mr. de Reutern, secretary of state.
In fact there exists, according to our views, a difference which it is impossible not to recognize, and which is admitted by the commercial legislation of all countries, between commerce by land and commerce by sea. This explains sufficiently the inequalities in our tariff in the two cases. These inequalities apply to the merchandise of all countries without distinction, and consequently cannot be looked upon as a departure from the principle of the equal treatment of the most favored nation. Our treaty of commerce with the United States, besides, refers only to our commerce by sea, without prejudice to the commercial relations of Russia by land with its immediate neighbors, as appears from article 6, forbidding all prohibitory tax on the products of the two countries, on entering or leaving the ports of the United States or those of the Empire of Russia.
Receive, sir, &c.,
Mr. Stoughton to Mr. de Giers.
St. Petersburg, March 16–28, 1878.
Excellency: Referring to your note of January 31 (February 11), I have the honor to state that it fails to satisfy me that your government has rightly interpreted article 6 of the treaty of 1832. That article declares that no higher or other duties shall be imposed on the importation into the Russian Empire of any article produced or manufactured in the United States, than shall be payable on the like article being the produce or manufacture of any other foreign country. That your government violates the letter of this article by imposing less duty on certain products and manufactures—for instance, of Germany—than upon like articles the produce and manufacture of the United States is admitted, and Your Excellency attempts to justify this discrimination against my country by insisting that the letter of article 6 is to be controlled by such a construction as limits its operation to such foreign countries as are compelled to send their productions or manufactures to Russia by sea. In other words, the position taken by your government is, that it may, if it pleases, and without violating the article in question, admit the products or manufactures of Germany free of duty, and yet charge upon like articles produced or manufactured in the United States a duty substantially prohibitory, if it does not exceed that charged upon like articles produced or manufactured in other countries separated from Russia by sea. This does not in my opinion present a just or solid distinction, or one justified by the language or the purpose of the treaty of 1832.
In attempting to maintain this construction of article 6, Your Excellency says there exists in your opinion a distinction that must be recognized, and is admitted by the commercial legislation of all countries, between commerce by land and commerce by sea. I fail to see the application of this to the question we are considering.
If at the date of the treaty it was the common understanding of mankind that when two nations stipulated to admit the products and manufactures of each without imposing a higher duty than that imposed upon the produce or manufactures of any other foreign country, it meant only foreign countries separated from the contracting parties by sea, this might assist your government in sustaining the construction it places upon the article. Your Excellency has not, however, referred me to any such established rule for the interpretation of treaties, and while I venture to suggest that none such exists, I beg leave to add that, if allowed to prevail, it would produce great injustice to the citizens of my country.
Permit me to illustrate. They can only send their products and manufactures into Northern Russia by sea during about six months of the year, while German subjects, for instance, may send like articles at all times by rail. They have, therefore, an advantage over citizens of my country, because, if equally good products and manufactures can be produced in Germany at as low prices as in the United States—although the freight thereon might be more by rail than by sea—the advantage to the dealer in purchasing in [Page 757] Germany, as his trade requires, at all seasons of the year, is manifest, for he would thus he relieved from the necessity of investing in the summer or autumn a large capital with which to purchase his stock in the United States, to supply customers during the following winter and spring, thereby saving interest upon such investments, and relieving himself from the risk of having a considerable remnant of his stock left unsold, and partially unsalable. These considerations, and others which might be mentioned, show that the country not separated by sea may, with equal duties imposed upon its produce and manufactures, possess a great advantage over its more distant rival for the trade of the nation imposing them. A descent into such particulars seems hardly necessary, however, or even appropriate for the purpose of determining the construction which ought to be placed upon the treaty of 1832. I am unable to discover in its language, its purpose, or its practical consequences any solid ground for the interpretation put upon it by your government.
Your excellency has, in support of your views, referred to the clause at the close of article 6, from which you draw the inference that maritime commerce only was intended to be embraced within the treaty. As I understand that clause, it cannot be successfully invoked in aid of your excellency’s interpretation. It declares in substance that articles the produce of the United States, or of Russia, shall not by prohibition be excluded from the ports of either, unless such prohibition equally extends to all other nations. This clause is utterly distinct in its purpose from that prohibiting the imposition of discriminating duties. The one was designed to place the citizens of my country upon the footing of the most favored nation as to the payment of duties, while the other was intended to prevent the exclusion of products or manufactures of Russia from the United States, or the products or manufactures of the United States from Russia, unless the nation so excluding should extend the prohibition to all other countries, whether separated from it by seas or by land only.
In conclusion, permit me to say to your excellency that treaties should be executed according to their terms, unless the language employed is so ambiguous as to render the meaning of the parties to them doubtful; in which case, and then only, their meaning may be ascertained by an appeal to surrounding circumstances. Here the language is free from all ambiguity. It admits of no interpretation, because none is needed. That put upon it by your government subjects the citizens of my country to the disadvantages of not being able to introduce their products and manufactures into Russia upon an equality with the subjects of the German Empire, or with those of other governments of continental Europe. This, I respectfully submit to your excellency, is in violation of the letter and purpose of the treaty, which was designed to afford to citizens of my country equal opportunities with those of any other to compete for the trade of Russia; and this policy, I beg leave to suggest, is as beneficial to your country as to my own.
I take this opportunity, &c.,