Mr. Van den
Bossche to Mr. Evarts.
Washington, May 7, 1879.
Mr. Secretary of State: I duly communicated to the Government of the King, my august sovereign, the contents of the last note of the honorable Secretary of the Treasury, relative to the proposed conversion of the local taxes levied at Antwerp, which your excellency was pleased to transmit to me under date of the 31st of January last, and I have now been instructed to submit to your kind consideration the observations suggested by the communication of the Hon. Mr. Sherman, to which I have just referred.
According to that communication, the Treasury Department seems to think that in preparing the new tariff of local taxes at Antwerp, the Government of the King has proposed to add to the principal of the dues, as it appears in the resolution of the Communal Council of Antwerp of June 22, 1861, the additional centimes levied on those dues in virtue of the same resolution. It was doubtless from taking this idea as his point of departure that the Hon. Mr. Sherman thought that the tariff had been slightly increased. Now, it is not proposed by the plan for the conversion [Page 118] of the taxes to unite the principal and the additional centimes. These additional centimes, which are now levied, will continue to be levied like the present tariff 5 the projected tariff calls for the principal duties only. But the reform proposed by the government has a wider scope; it consists not only in a change in the process of admeasurement, but it has for its basis a more important and more radical modification—that of the legal value of the sea ton; that is to say, of the unity of measure which serves to express the tonnage. It thus became necessary to bring the local taxes of Antwerp into harmony with the new tonnage which will result from this change, and this has been the basis of the conversion that has been prepared; the manner in which this work has been performed offers, moreover, every possible guarantee of accuracy and impartiality.
On considering these facts and these explanations, the Government of the United States will doubtless be convinced that the proposed conversion involves no increase of the tariff.
The Secretary of the Treasury inquired, moreover, in his note of January 27, what kind of tonnage was to serve as the basis for the collection of navigation dues in Belgium as regards American vessels registered simply according to their gross tonnage, the rules in force in the United States making no deduction on this tonnage, and consequently recognizing no net tonnage. I will take the liberty to remark that according to the plan communicated to the Government of the President, it is net tonnage, as it will be defined by the Belgian rules that will serve as the basis for the collection, whatever be the nationality of the vessel, and I will add that the spaces to be deducted are therein expressly indicated.
Moreover, if the registers of American vessels state the gross tonnage only measured by Moorsom’s rules, the Belgian authorities will accept such gross tonnage as correct (according to article 24, § 4, of the proposed regulations), and they will deduct therefrom the capacity of the spaces for whose deduction said regulations provide for the purpose of finding the Belgian net tonnage; they will make this deduction not according to a fixed and invariable proportion, but by measuring the spaces to be exempted.
In a word, it is on net tonnage as defined in the proposed regulations that duties will be required as well for American vessels as for vessels carrying the Belgian flag. This method of procedure is, morever, entirely in accordance with article 3 of the treaty of commerce and navigation of March 8, 1875, which guarantees to vessels of the United States entering the ports of Belgium the same usage as is accorded to Belgian vessels.
Article 2 of that treaty contains a stipulation which is in all respects similar as to the usage to be accorded to Belgian vessels in the ports of the United States. Thus, when American vessels pay navigation dues in these latter ports, according to their gross tonnage, the Government of the King can have no objection to Belgian vessels being compelled to pay the same dues according to their gross tonnage, unless more favorable usage should be accorded to a third power, in which case Belgium would be entitled to the usage of the most favored nation. The tonnage certificate of Belgian vessels will, moreover, state both their net and gross tonnage; no difficulty can therefore arise in determining the latter in American ports.
I need not add, Mr. Secretary of State, as I have already had occasion to remark, that the Government of the King will not introduce its new system of admeasurement until all the foreign governments shall have [Page 119] expressed their views in relation to the proposed conversion of the tariff of the local taxes at Antwerp, and that when the proper time shall have arrived it will inform the said governments by a special communication of the day on which the new system shall have been introduced.
I shall be glad, Mr. Secretary of the State, if foregoing observations are sufficient fully to enlighten the Washington Cabinet as to the scope of the measure proposed by the Government of the King, my august sovereign, and I hope that they will enable your excellency soon to notify me of the adhesion of the Government of the President to the propositions that are now submitted to it.
I avail myself of this occasion, Mr. Secretary of State, to offer your excellency a renewed assurance of my highest consideration.