No. 522.
Mr. White to Mr. Bayard.

No. 754.]

Sir: Referring to my dispatch No. 747, of May 5, I have the honor to inclose herewith copies of the procès-verbaux of the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth, twenty-first, and twenty-second sittings of the international sugar conference,* the present session of which was brought to a close by the signature, on the 12th of May, of the protocol transmitted in my dispatch No. 752, of the 14th instant.

These documents are so well drawn up and give such full and accurate reports of the proceeding of the conference that I deem it necessary only to call your attention to a few of the more important questions which came under discussion.

At pages 4, 5, and 6, of the procès verbal of the thirteenth sitting, will be found M. Pallain’s remarks, referred to in my dispatch No. 747, with reference to the speech (vide also Congressional Record of April 6) of Senator Wilson, of Iowa. At the same sitting a discussion of some length, initiated by M. Jordan, of Germany, and continued by M. Dupuy de Lôme, of Spain, took place with regard to the penal clause question (pages 10, 11.)

The United States occupied a considerable portion of the attention of the conference at its fourteenth sitting. M. Pailain concluded an able [Page 722] speech, in which he gave an interesting account of the growth of the French bounty system by stating that France had been compelled to adopt bounties in self-defense and against her will, but that she would not give her final assent to their abolition until that of the United States had been given also. He added that the latter might at any moment become a great sugar-producing country, and not only close its markets to the world, but invade those of other nations; consequently any international agreement for the abolition of sugar bounties in which the United States should not be included would, in his opinion, be productive at no distant day of very disagreeable surprises for Europe.

M. Dupuy de Lôme, formerly of the Spanish legation at Washington, replied that the French knew, before coming to the conference, that the United States would not be officially represented, and he stated the reasons which, in his opinion, rendered such official representation impossible (page 6), adding that, to his mind, the fact that the United States had sent to the conference an unofficial delegate was a marked proof of our country’s good will and intentions in the matter.

The whole of the fifteenth sitting was taken up with the discussion of a clause (Article VI of the Projet de Convention) providing for the creation of an international commission, whose functions shall be to see that the provisions of the convention are carried out, and to report to the powers interested any infraction thereof.

At the sixteenth sitting the report of the committee appointed on the 13th of April was laid on the table, and its recommendations with regard to the wording of Article II were eventually adopted.

Brief allusion to the penal clause question was made at the close of this sitting, the Spanish delegate stating that, in his opinion, no convention would be possible without such a clause; to which “serious declaration” the senior French delegate called the particular attention of the conference.

The Belgian proposals for insuring the abolition of bounties in that country (Article IV of the new draught convention) came under discussion at the seventeenth sitting of the conference. M. Guillaume defended these in an able speech (pages 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), upon which comments were subsequently made by various delegates; the opposition evinced at the previous session of the conference to the Belgian project being fully maintained, notwithstanding further modifications proposed as a compromise by Belgium, i. e., an increase of the “prise en charge” from 1,700 to 1,750 grams (at once, and in two years to 1,800) and a seduction of the tax from 25 francs to 22 francs 50 centimes.

To the surprise of all the other delegates, the French refused to take part in this discussion or to commit themselves to any future course with regard to the Belgian proposals.

At the eighteenth sitting, however, M. Sans-Leroy stated that instructions had been received from France since the conference last met, and that his Government would insist upon the non-acceptance of the Belgian project.

The Spanish proposal, known as the penal-clause question, was also discussed at this sitting (pages 10 to 14.)

It had been supposed that England would not agree to a penal clause, but this turned out not to be the case, as Baron de Worms made a statement in behalf of his Government (page 14) assenting unreservedly to its insertion. M. Sans-Leroy’s remarks in connection with this discussion (page 13) should be noted, to the effect that France can not admit the necessity for a penal clause affecting non-contracting powers, as she had said from the beginning that she would only assent to the convention [Page 723] upon the condition that all the sugar-producing powers of the world should be parties thereto.

The nineteenth sitting was chiefly taken up with a discussion of the “surtaxes” question, which was raised by the Dutch delegates at the previous session of the conference, and is referred to in my report of its deliberations. The question was again discussed as a matter of courtesy to the Dutch delegates; but it was well known that a large majority of the powers represented at the conference considered this matter to be beyond its scope, and would not allow any clause bearing on the subject to be inserted in the convention. In rejecting the clause proposed by the Dutch delegates, the conference re-asserted the principle laid down at its last session, viz, that there should be no interference with the right of all the powers signing the convention to establish such customs duties as they might think expedient. The discussion was chiefly remarkable for an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a promise from the British Government not to establish any duties on sugar during the period of the convention’s duration.

Upon the rejection of the clause proposed by the Dutch delegates they announced that they felt compelled to reserve to their Government full liberty of action with respect to the entire convention.

The period during which the convention should remain in vigor was also discussed at this sitting, at which Article X, fixing the period in question, was adopted.

At the twenty-first sitting a discussion took place as to the date at which the delegates should assemble here for the final signature of the convention; and M. Jordan, of Germany, having in connection with this subject again alluded to the absence of the United States from the list of contracting powers, and expressed the opinion that by postponing the date of signature the adhesion of the United States might perhaps be obtained, I deemed it proper (page 2) to inform the conference that I had nothing to add to my previous statements with respect to the attitude assumed by my Government. I took occasion also to read a translation of our present drawback law, with which the delegates were for the most part unacquainted.

This sitting was marked by Baron H. de Worms’ statement, in behalf of the British Government, to the effect that the latter can not postpone doing all that lies within its power to abolish bounties longer than August 16 next, and in the event of the convention’s failure that the responsibility for this would rest, not with Her Majesty’s Government, but elsewhere.

The Dutch delegate thereupon stated that it must be distinctly understood that the signature by himself and his colleague of the protocol would in no way commit his Government to the convention or fetter its liberty of action with reference thereto.

I was not present at the signature of the protocol, which took place at the twenty-second and last sitting of the conference.

You will observe from the procès verbal that, in deference to the desire of the British Government, it was decided not to make public for the present the proceedings of the second session of the conference.* I inclose an extract from the Times newspaper of to-day, containing an interpellation on this subject which took place yesterday in the French Chamber of Deputies.

In the procès verbal of this sitting will also be found the closing speech of Baron Henry de Worms, who draws a distinction between a policy [Page 724] of protection which has the effect of closing the markets of a country against all foreign competition and “protection in the real sense of the word,” which merely serves to protect national industries. To the latter he intimated that all free-trade countries might soon find themselves compelled by the force of public opinion to revert.

The most important clause of the convention, so far as the United States are concerned, is Article VII, the effect of which will be to prohibit the importation of our sugar into this country, should the present draught convention be ratified, and should the small indirect bounty which is said to exist in the United States not be made to disappear prior to the date at which the convention comes into force.

It is as yet uncertain whether the convention will be ratified, and whether, even should such ratification take place, the parliaments of the different signatory powers will pass the legislation necessary to carry its provisions into effect.

I have reason to believe that when the penal clause (Article VII) comes before the Parliament of this country it will meet with strong opposition. It is already announced in the Daily News (the leading Gladstonian Liberal paper) that immediately after Whitsuntide a meeting of Liberal members will be held for the purpose of discussing the question, with a view to the inauguration of an extensive agitation in the constituencies against the prohibition of the importation of bounty-fed sugar as being injurious to the British consumer 5 and the Times, in concluding a leading article on the sugar-bounties conference, says:

We must acknowledge that, though the prohibition of bounty-fed imports of sugar is not at all as objectionable as the expedient of a countervailing duty, we look upon it with great misgiving, fearing that it will be used to justify much less defensible proposals.

On the other hand, strong pressure was brought to bear upon the Government in favor of the prohibition of bounty-fed sugar, resolutions to that effect being passed by the London Trades Council, by meetings of the workingmen of Liverpool and Bristol, by a meeting of workmen of the London sugar refineries, by the Birmingham Trades Council, and by a number of other similar associations. I inclose herewith, for your information, a report of the proceedings at the Liverpool workingmen’s meeting.*

I am clearly of the opinion that unless the British Government had consented to the adoption of Article VII, or an equally stringent penal clause, the conference would have been brought to a speedy termination, for the obvious reason that most of the powers represented would have declined to sign a convention for the abolition of bounties unless effectually guarantied against the importation of bounty-fed sugar from without the union.

You will observe from the inclosed procès-verbaux that a great many reservations have been made by the different delegates, and, consequently, it is doubtful whether the convention will be ratified as at present drafted. Particularly is this the case with regard to Article IV (the Belgian clause), which will not improbably be dropped before the final signature of the convention.

I have no doubt whatever that a decided majority of the governments represented at the conference are sincerely desirous that the bounty system should disappear, but each is naturally anxious, before committing itself to this course, to leave no loop-hole by means of which another power may maintain a bounty. It remains to be seen whether this [Page 725] can be accomplished. The difficulties to be overcome are still considerable, but I am disposed to think that no power will care to assume the responsibility of the failure of the convention, and that to this fact its ratification, if accomplished, will perhaps be due.

I am informed that translations of the procès-verbal of the late session of the conference are-now being made, copies of which will be forwarded as soon as received.

I have, etc.,

Henry White.
[Inclosure in No. 754.—The London Times, Saturday, May 19, 1888.]

The sugar conference.

In the chamber to-day M. Delisse, on behalf of the beet-root sugar refiners, asked the minister for foreign affairs to distribute among the deputies, as his predecessor had done, the reports of the deliberations at the sugar conference in London.

M. Goblet, in reply, said that he could assure M. Delisse that the interests of France were very manfully and usefully defended by her delegates at the second session of the sagar conference in London. A draught convention had been signed on May 12, but it was accompanied by very important reservations as to the most important articles. After the first session in November the protocols had been published at the request of the English Government, who had referred to parliamentary rules; but, contrary to what had occurred at the first session, at the last sitting of the second session the English Government had asked, through the president of the conference, that the minutes of that session might not be published, and to obtain this concession an appeal was made to the courtesy of the other governments interested. On the one hand parliamentary rules could be appealed to, but on the other it was the custom, when a convention was in the course of negotiation, not to publish the proceedings.

M. Goblet added that he did not place the question on this ground. When an appeal was made to their courtesy, it appeared to him difficult, unless there were need to the contrary, not to reply favorably. All the more was this the case, because at this moment they were conducting with England delicate negotiations, which it was to their interest to continue until a favorable solution was reached. No engagement had been entered into in London and he himself had entered into none, but, unless indiscretions had been committed, which made it necessary, he had no intention of publishing what had been mentioned.

M. Delisse replied that on this occasion the degree of courtesy due to foreign nations had been exceeded. He had, perhaps, a right to say so, considering the measures which England had recently taken with regard to French wines, and the difficulties which she had placed in the way of the importation of French cattle. He had no desire to place the foreign minister in a difficult position. He wanted only to ask him to keep in mind, with reference to efforts that would be made between this time and July 5, the almost unanimous demonstrations in all the provinces concerned. These demonstrations showed to what an extent their commerce, industry, and agriculture were interested in not following up this London conference, which by the abolition of bounties would place France in a highly undesirable situation.

The president said that the incident was closed.

  1. Not printed herewith.
  2. They have since been published in London Gazette, September 6, 1888.
  3. Not printed herewith.