No. 130.
Mr. Dichman to Mr. Evarts.

No. 60.]

Sir: The attention of the administration has undoubtedly been bestowed before this upon the balance of trade against the United States which exists in the commerce with South and Spanish American countries. With a view of being able to make recommendations to the Department on this subject, I have given much time and attention to the commercial movements of this republic, and my investigations lead me to the following conclusions:

In a commercial point of view, ever since the political independence of this country, it has been practically a dependency, almost a colony, of Great Britain. An examination of the file of the dispatches from this legation at the Department will show that ever since 1824 (referring to Mr. Anderson’s No. 9 of March 18, 1824, in which he states that even the recognition of the independence of this country by Great Britain was made a matter of barter for a commercial treaty, giving to that nation a preference in the trade of Colombia) the commerce of the United States with this republic has labored under the disadvantage of a differential duty of five per cent., which all the efforts of the representatives of the United States could not remove until 1846, when, in the negotiation of the present treaty of commerce, the differential duties were surrendered in exchange for the guarantee by the United States of the sovereignty and property of the Isthmus of Panama. (See proctocol of Mr. Bidlack.)

Possessing thus almost a virtual monopoly of the commerce of this country for many years, it has practically continued in British hands until a few years ago. This connection was strengthened by the feeling of suspicion entertained of the United States on account of the several adjustments of the boundary with Mexico and other causes, the reason of all of which has disappeared at present, and in connection herewith the usual hostile influence against the United States on the part of the diplomatic and consular officers of Great Britain, is a factor to be taken into consideration, which, however, at present is a matter of no importance, and may be viewed with indifference. (See No. 269, September 9, 1866, last sentence, and many similar dispatches from this legation.)

To overcome the habits of trading with a certain country which have been formed by business associations of long standing, advantages of some kind must be held out to turn the channel of trade toward the United States.

To a certain extent this is already being done by a superiority of goods, which is slowly but surely making itself felt in favor of the exporters of the United States. But while the merchants of a country engaged in a foreign trade may not inaptly be looked upon as an army which battles for commercial supremacy, the government of a country may, in a certain sense, be considered as the engineers of that army, making roads and removing obstacles to facilitate its progress. This is the object of commercial treaties, and in this the British Government has generally been successful by advancing the interests of its commercial and manufacturing classes. Leaving other nations out of the question, the struggle for commercial supremacy in these countries may be said to be with Great Britain. In this struggle Great Britain has the advantage of an immense capital employed in its foreign trade and the many lines of communication. Undoubtedly the greater activity of our people, and [Page 279] the greater resources of our country, may be a partial set-off, and it is unquestionable that, with the establishment of lines of communication with the United States, the advantages now possessed by Great Britain will be overcome, and, in the course of time, the United States will obtain the control of the commerce of this country, to which, from their proximity of position, diversity of productions, and similarity of institutions, they are naturally entitled. But as a measure which, in my opinion, would yield immediate results, in the way of increasing the commerce of the United States with South and Spanish America, I would earnestly recommend our government to change its policy of a general tariff to the policy of a conventional or a treaty tariff, adapted to the different commercial wants and interests arising out of the commercial relations of the United States with the natives on this continent.

An examination of the balance of trade against the United States shows that it arises principally from purchases of coffee and sugar, while the coffee and sugar producing countries purchase their dry-goods and other articles from Great Britain.

I would recommend the restoration of the duty on coffee, but leaving its collection or remission discretionary with the President upon the negotiation of a satisfactory treaty or convention, assuring to some articles of American manufacture an equivalent remission of duty. The planting of coffee-trees in coffee-producing countries is increasing at an immense ratio, and the time is not far distant when the world will have a surplus of coffee.

It is difficult for me to understand why the Government of the United States will deliberately throw away the advantages which our markets, as being large purchasers of coffee, afford, to compel a more liberal treatment for our exports on the part of countries having coffee to sell.

The question of sugar is, perhaps, more complicated on account of its home production, and the different political-economical position which it occupies. But even then it is a matter of serious consideration whether the duty which is now collected, partly as a revenue measure and partly to make up for the deficiency of the heat of the sun in the United States, compared with other countries better suited for the growth of the cane, could not be used as a means of bringing about a greater exchange of equivalents of labor or value with sugar-producing countries. In this country sugar-cane has been known to last, without replanting, over eighty years.

Sugar can be produced at a cost of less than two cents a pound, and if a market could be found in the United States, not only would every dollar paid for sugar be used to purchase American dry goods, boots and shoes, and other manufactured articles, but this country would necessarily become the debtor of the United States to a large amount, yielding a high rate of interest for the railroads and other improvements which would have to be constructed to carry the products of this country to the markets of the United States.

These ideas have been suggested already in my previous dispatches, particularly my No. 18, on the subject of tobacco. My object in, or reason for selecting tobacco on that occasion was to follow or keep within the precedent which the Congress established by the “joint resolution in relation to the tobacco trade of the United States with foreign nations,” approved February 14, 1859.

Nor ought the fact to be lost sight of, that, in entering upon any measure of reciprocity with this country, the United States will be the source from which to supply a population of over three millions of people instead of the forty or fifty thousand who make up the population [Page 280] which comes under the provisions of the treaty with the Hawaiian Islands. Like all the people living in the tropics, the inhabitants of this country are improvident and wasteful. They possess no accumulated stores of any kind, and having but little, if any, idea of economy, the products of their labors would lead to an instant and constantly increasing exchange of commodities.

Bearing on the same subject, I also beg to call attention to an extract from the last message of the President of the United States of Colombia, which will be found on pages 4 and 5 of my No. 43.

The readjustment of the commercial treaties with these countries in the manner herein indicated would also be productive in securing to them stability of government, and that advance in their material prosperity and development to which their abundant natural wealth would lead, but which they have failed to realize on account of political struggles. Closer commercial relations with the United States would naturally bring about an assimilation of political ideas and the moral influence of our country would enable them to break through the vicious circle of politics, which knows of no appeal from a grievance, fancied or real, except the appeal to the sword. Aside from the question of pecuniary interest, this subject ought also to be considered from its political aspect, and the standpoint of responsibility and duty. The government of this country is modeled after that of the United States, and it is to the United States that they must look for sympathy and good-will in their efforts to break from the traditions and practices of the past.

* * * * * * *

The progress of education is teaching the masses of this people that there are two great nations speaking the English language, and the political men of the country are realizing the fact “that the time has come for laying the foundation of an American policy which shall bind in closer union the American republics.” (Secretary of State to Senate of the United States, July 14, 1870.)

Being fully aware of the difficulty of giving instructions on a subject of such a general and comprehensive nature as the one treated of in this despatch, I shall coniine my efforts to the obtaining of such tangible and practical propositions for the Colombian Government as will enable the Department to submit the same, with its judgment or recommendation thereon, to the consideration of Congress.

Actuated as I am by the great desire to bring about a closer commercial intercourse between the two countries, I trust that in forming a judgment in the opinions herein expressed the Department will take these motives into consideration.

I am, &c.