Mr. Reid to Mr. Blaine.

No. 198.]

Sir: Referring to your instructions to press efforts for the removal of the French prohibition of American pork, and to the memorials from various chambers of commerce which you have forwarded, as well as to my previous advices of conversation and correspondence with the foreign minister on the subject, I have the honor to report that the present condition of the new tariff bill in Congress and the French agitation about it seemed to me to make the occasion timely for fresh representations to Mr. Ribot as earnest and plain spoken as the proprieties of diplomatic intercourse would permit.

Since my return I have taken every suitable occasion to urge the subject upon the attention of the minister for foreign affairs, and, with his assent, upon various senators and deputies. Yesterday I sent Mr. Ribot the letter a copy of which is herewith inclosed. He has already told me that he should communicate its substance at once to Mr. Jules Roche, the minister of commerce, and to Mr. Meline, former president of the Chamber and now president of the commission on the budget.

I do not believe that French statesmen now think there is any real reason for continuing the prohibition of American pork, unless it be the danger of arousing prejudice and alarm among French farmers, and this I have tried to prove groundless. But they will be sure to want to trade. “If we withdraw this decree for you, what will you do for us?” is likely to be the form in which, more or less directly, the case will be presented. The present condition of the clause in the House tariff bill putting works of art on the free list suggests to us one reply. The appeal of Bordeaux fruit-growers against advances in duties on certain of their products which do not seem in any serious way to come into competition with us may offer another, and the complaints of the minister of commerce about our more stringent requirements for the legalization of invoices at the Paris consulate, particularly as to the exaction of original bills, may be thought to afford a third. In any case, I venture to think it important that the point should be considered before final action on these subjects.

I have, etc.,

Whitelaw Reid.
[Inclosure in No. 198.]

Mr. Reid to Mr. Ribot.

Sir: Referring to previous correspondence concerning the French prohibition of American pork, and to recent conversations on the subject, I venture to remind Your Excellency that my Government is attentively waiting for the fulfillment of the hopes aroused by your unofficial conversation with and messages to Mr. Vignaud.

You will recall that, while advising you of my earnest efforts to procure the desired [Page 284] removal of needless or unjust restrictions upon your trade, I pointed out once more that the greatest obstacle arose from what our people consider the persistent injustice of France in continuing the prohibition of a great staple American product on the indefensible ground that it is unwholesome. Your Excellency was good enough then to intimate that, under certain conditions, the Government might be willing to propose the repeal of this prohibition.

Such a step now would be most timely and could not fail to have a beneficial effect.

While the belief was current that this course would be speedily taken, the House of Representatives voted to remove the existing duty of 30 per cent, on pictures and statues. Seeing now that it is not taken, and beginning to believe that it will not be, the Senate committee has already amended the tariff bill by reimposing this duty, and there is danger that the Senate will approve their action. It is only candid to explain that the majority of the Senators and Representatives, including especially those from the great corn-growing and pork-producing States, regard the attitude of France as without warrant in fact and unfriendly. This old and growing feeling arises, unlike your recent complaints about our tariff bills, from no mere objection to the size of the duty you choose to impose (although within recent years you have greatly increased it) or to minor details in your custom-house method. It springs from a grievance more serious and deep-seated—your persistent discrimination in favor of the products of Germany, Italy, England, and other countries against those of your historic friend, which you absolutely prohibit on the charge of their bad quality.

We ask the repeal of this prohibition as an act of naked justice, too long deferred. It has been excused only by alleging the unhealthfulness of American pork. Now, this product is perfectly known not to be unhealthful, and we no longer hear of any serious belief in any quarter that it is. Your Academy of Medicine long since decided in its favor. Your own exposition gave it the highest award last year in competition with all the world. After that award, through a letter which I had the honor to address to your predecessor, Mr. Spuller, we challenged and invited a most rigorous examination by your scientific experts, and it was made, to their apparent satisfaction. We forwarded all the information that was then asked and have never been told that it was insufficient or that any more was desired. Certainly, it seems to us that there is no reason to seek for more. This pork is cheap and wholesome and enormously used, but nowhere so much as by our own people. They are the largest pork-consuming nation in the world, and yet, from the time the disease of trichinosis was first; observed, down to this day, it is believed that there have not been in the United States so many actual deaths from it altogether as there have been in a single year from strokes of lightning. There is not an authentic case of the disease known to be recorded, except when the pork was eaten raw.

If it were a question of importation among a nation of savages, possibly here might be a valid reason for its exclusion, but not in the nation that marches at the head of the civilization of Europe.

Relations between governments are best and most enduring when they rest upon a basis of mutual good will and mutual interest. Of the mutual good will in the case of our countries there is happily no doubt; the world has seen mere than a century’s evidence of it. But I would like to show that the action we how ask is in the mutual interest of the two countries; that it is greatly to the benefit of France; and that it is specially in the interest of the very classes in France for which a wise government always cherishes the most solicitous care and to which a republican government is especially bound. This might seem to tend towards a questionable discussion of your domestic affairs. Relying, however, upon the courteous permission Your Excellency has given me to pursue this phase of the question, I beg you to believe that, even with this permission, I only do so in the firm belief that the facts demonstrate your interests and ours to be harmonious and not conflicting.

In the last year before the prohibition of American pork (1880) France imported in all 38,722,300 kilogrammes of pork, of which 34,247,300 kilogrammes came from the United States. As your import from all other sources has averaged for the past 3 years just about the same as it was in 1880, say, in round numbers, 4,600,000 kilogrammes per year, it is plain that you have not made up in duties on this article from other countries what you have lost in duties from the United States. That loss, at the old rate of duty, and assuming that there would have been no natural growth in the business—a most unlikely supposition—would still have been for the past 9 years of exclusion, in round numbers, 12,250,000 francs. At the present rate of duty, and assuming that the advance was not too great to check importations, even if it did prevent the natural growth of the business, your loss has been 2,911,000 francs per annum, or, for the 9 years of exclusion, in round numbers, 26,000,000 francs which we should have paid into your treasury.

But, considerable as this sum seems, it would appear to be the smallest part of your actual loss, for besides you have deprived your French steamers of a valuable line of freight; you have deprived your grocers and country peddlers throughout France of a staple and useful trade; and, above all, you have deprived your people, particularly [Page 285] the poor laboring classes, of a cheap and highly prized article of food which they used largely and for which you have been able to furnish no adequate substitute. Statistics of your importations and the regular quotations of your domestic prices show that what you shut out from us you have not supplied from other sources.

Surely, an abundant and cheap supply of healthful food for the laboring classes is one of the most important essentials for the happiness of a people, the growth of its productive energies in competition with neighboring and rival countries, and the development of the national prosperity.

These, then, are some of the things the exclusion of American pork has cost France. In return what good has it done France?

Has it helped the national health? There has been no more disease from eating pork in England or Belgium, where the American product is freely used, than in France, where you deprive yourselves of it.

Has it helped the French farmer? He can sell the swine he grows for no more now than he could before the prohibition, not even for as much.

Has it helped the consumer? He can buy French pork no cheaper now than before the prohibition.

The figures on these points are most suggestive.

In June, 1880, before prohibition, and when, according to theories now advanced in some quarters, the French pork-grower suffered from the American competition, French swine sold, live weight, in Paris, at 136.61 francs per 100 kilogrammes. The same quality is currently quoted now at 114 francs per 100 kilogrammes. The average price of French swine for 1880 was from 20 to 30 per cent, higher than in 1889. In 1880 the French laborer, if he bought French salted pork at all, paid for it the retailers’ varying profits over the wholesale price of from 160 to 200 francs per 100 kilogrammes for sides and hams. Now, if he buys French salted pork, he pays for the same qualities the retailers’ profits over the current wholesale prices, substantially the same as in 1880, of from 160 to 200 francs per 100 kilogrammes.

The conclusion from these statements, and from the fullest comparison of facts and prices that can be made, is irresistible.

France has no greater exemption from trichinosis than England or Belgium, i. e., French health has not been benefited.

French swine are lower than before prohibition, i.e., French farmers have not been benefited.

The retail prices of French salt pork are no lower, i. e., French consumers have not been benefited.

Who then has been? Only the small class of middlemen who are enabled to exact yet larger profits in the absence of American competition and of an adequate domestic supply at the season of scarcity, viz, the summer months.

But it may be thought, in spite of all this, that a return to the old order of things would now injure the French farmer. To that suggestion the current quotations of prices furnish a striking reply.

French swine, with American pork prohibited, are now selling in Paris for 86 centimes to 1.14 francs the kilogramme.

English swine, with American pork freely admitted, are now selling in London for 2s. 6d. to 4s. 2d. per 8 pounds, or 82½ centimes to 1.37½ francs the kilogramme.

Meanwhile the English working classes (and the Belgians as well), competing with you in manufacture for the world, have the advantage of a liberal and cheap supply of wholesome American meats. How great that advantage is may be inferred from the following comparative statement of the present prices, wholesale and retail, of French salt pork and the corresponding wholesale prices of American salt pork delivered in France, with an estimate of what the retail prices would now be at the same advance upon the wholesale price which the retail dealers charged in 1880. The figures include the present wholesale price of pork in America, the present rate of freight, and the present French duties and other charges. It is also to be noted that for the very cheapest kind of American salt pork, wholesaling at 75 to 78 francs per 100 kilogrammes and retailing for 90 to 95 centimes per kilogramme, there is no French equivalent in the market.

Salt pork 1890.

French. American.
Wholesale (per 100 kilos.) Retail (per kilo.) Wholesale (per 100 kilos.) Retail (per kilo.)
Francs. Francs. Francs. Francs.
Shoulders 75 to 78 .90 to .95
Sides 130 to 165 2.00 to 2.20 95 to 100 1.20 to 1.30
Hams 175 to 200 3.00 to 4.00 150 to 100 1.80 to 2.00
Barreled 130 to 145 4.00 105 to 110

French fresh pork, retail, 1. 90 to 2. 10 francs per kilogramme.

[Page 286]

It should he further noted that there is no real competition between the American salted pork and the French fresh pork. They are sold to entirely different classes, and the statistics do not show that the price of French pork has at any time been affected by the presence or absence of the American importation. French fresh pork is consumed only roasted or broiled. The American salt pork is used for boiling with vegetables, and for that purpose is highly prized by poor families, particularly the lowest paid among the working classes. These are the people who have felt the deprivation most keenly. With the same money they could formerly have meat twice as often as at present, and could have it in many places where the French salted pork, particularly in the summer, is not procurable. American pork, being dry salted, is easily carried to remote districts by traveling peddlers, and, unlike the French article, is freely retailed in groceries. The great competition among these grocers’ shops insures sale at a low profit, while the magnitude of the business makes it a valuable addition to their trade.

I have ventured upon no word of complaint against your duty on pork, which in late years you have more than doubled. We fix our own duties from our own view of the public need and can not take exception to your doing the same. But, considering the large advance which you have already made, you will allow me to suggest that, in our varied experience on this subject, it has been found that lower duties often produce greater revenues than higher ones. They permit a liberal importation, which an excessive duty checks or destroys. Precisely for that reason our House of Representatives has now voted to advance certain duties to reduce an excessive revenue. In view of the facts that the production of salt pork in France does not meet the demand, and that your revenue is not excessive, it can not in this case be in your interest any more than in ours to impose a duty which would check importation from the country which has the largest supply and can furnish it at the lowest rate.

It is hoped that in any case the facts and considerations here set forth may be found sufficient to convince Your Excellency that the early withdrawal of the existing decree would be an act alike of friendliness, of duty, and of policy.

At the outset I ventured to explain that our people, from their point of view, thought the prohibition unfriendly and unjust. Will you permit me to add one more reason why it seems to them to be also, from your point of view, unwise?

You have a product, to take one example out of many, more important to France than pork is to the United States. We import it more largely than you ever imported our pork. Nobody in the United States says that our pork is diseased, but your own public men have again and again admitted the adulteration of French wines. Never in late years in the Senate of the United States has such a whisper been heard about our pork, but it is less than a month since the French Senate has been debating a bill to prevent a percentage of sulphates or of soda in French wines, which the French Academy of Medicine pronounced deleterious to health; and in the course of that debate it was openly admitted that other drugs were used, against which it was not so easy to guard.

There is a growing and already successful wine industry in the United States. Surely, it is not wise for French statesmen, by persistence in what our people think a calumniation of our product, to drive American statesmen to listen to French exposures of their own and to consider whether, if France still prefers prohibition to duties, the United States has not greater reason to do the same.

But I refuse to follow that thought. Keenly as we feel the indefensible nature of your decree, we are most anxious to avoid even a suggestion of possible retaliation. That is a path not to be entered lightly or without full consideration of the mutual injuries to which it may lead.

The business of diplomacy, at any rate, is to make trade easier and national relations more cordial, not to embitter them. We prefer to present the facts and rely upon French good will, French justice, and French sagacity.

I avail, etc.

Whitelaw Reid.