Mr. Harris to Mr. Hay.

No. 10.]

Sir: I have the honor to advise you that this legation has received a note from the Count Szecsen, second chief of section of the foreign office, dated the 19th of May, 1899, stating the inability of the Austrian Government to comply with the request made by Mr. Herdliska in his note of the 15th of February, 1899, for the withdrawal of the decree exacting the same duty upon the salt in which meats are packed as upon the meat itself.

I beg further to advise you that, in reply to Count Szecsen’s note, and pursuant to your dispatch No. 9, of the 13th of April, 1899, I have addressed a note to the Count Goluchowski, Imperial and Royal minister of foreign affairs, conveying to the Austrian Government the instruction contained in your dispatch.

Upon the receipt of Count Szecsen’s note this legation sought to ascertain the precise facts touching the importation of bacon. We had an interview with an importer who states that he caused the Cudahy Packing Company to lodge its complaint of the 10th of January, 1899, with the Secretary of Agriculture.

From this source the information is:

That for many years after the adoption of the present customs act of 1882 no charge of any kind was made on account of the box or the salt, but the bacon was removed and weighed net.
Some few years since a great demand sprung up for imported hog products, including bacon, because a hog malady cut down the production in this country. This demand was supplied practically from America alone.
The agricultural interests and others are opposed to this importation, and so it came about that the practice was changed, as stated in Count Szecsen’s note, so as to include the salt as bacon.
Our informant says the practice with regard to bacon imported is now as follows: The entire package is weighed, 13 per cent of the gross weight is deducted, and the duty is computed on 87 per cent of the total weight. That, in fact, the box is about 17 per cent and the salt 6 per cent of the gross weight, making an overcharge of 10 per cent.
This is declared to be oppressive, and amounts to from 1½ to 2 florins per 100 kilos (or 220 pounds). The salt, after being separated from the meat, is of no commercial value. It is sometimes used in the warehouse for a time in conserving other meats, but can not be sold and is cast away.
Our informant (who declines the use of his name) states that the decrease of the importation into this country of bacon and other hog products is attributable in part to the oppressive manner in which the customs charges are enforced, and in part to an increased production in this country consequent upon the malady above mentioned being stamped out by this Government.
Inclosed please find:
A translation of Count Szecsen’s note of date May 19, 1899.
A translation of paragraph 13 of the customs act.
A copy of the note addressed by me to the foreign office on the 3d of June, 1899, transmitting your instruction of the 13th of April, 1899.

I have, etc.,

Addison C. Harris.
[Inclosure A.—Translation.]

Foreign Office to Mr. Harris.

In his esteemed note of the 15th of February of the current year, F. O. No. 98, the chargé d’affaires of the United States of America, Mr. Charles V. Herdliska, was pleased to forward to this ministry a reclamation in which the Cudahy Packing Company of South Omaha, Nebr., makes complaint to the effect that the chief custom-house at Trieste, on the basis of a new decree, and contrary to the practice hitherto followed, has recently, upon imports of salted meats from America, been adding the salt used for the preservation of the meat to the dutiable net weight of the meat itself.

In connection therewith, request was made by the chargé d’affaires that this decree might be withdrawn and that the custom hitherto followed might be returned to.

The Cudahy Packing Company has here evidently in view that order of the Imperial and Royal ministry of finance in which it was pointed out that the separating of the salt used for the preservation of bacon before the determining of the dutiable net weight is unadmissible.

With reference to this subject, the Imperial and Royal ministry of foreign affairs, on the basis of the understanding reached by it with the several ministries interested, begs to submit to the envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the United States of America, Mr. Addison C. Harris, as follows:

When in the second half of the year 1897 the importation of salted bacon, which, up to that time, had been inconsiderable, began suddenly to assume large dimensions, complaint was made by a party against the [Page 46] refusal of the custom-house to separate the preserving salt. In answer to this complaint, a decision was made in the above-named sense because of the fact that salted bacon, the same as salted meat, salted fish, etc., is assigned to its special number under the tariff and because of the fact that, according to paragraph 13, Section C, of the regulations putting the tariff law into execution, ordinary packing materials only, such as hay, straw, sawdust, paper cuttings, etc., are not to be added to the dutiable net weight.

In the beginning of the year 1898, the office of the controller of the collectors of the tariff (Zollrechnungs-Censur), one of the Departments of the Imperial and Royal ministry of finance, pointed out that a number of custom-houses, among others the chief custom-house at Trieste also, was permitting the separation of preserving salt from salted bacon.

As a result of this notice, the Imperial and Royal ministry of finance, by decree of the 11th of November, 1898, No. 58904, instructed all the Imperial and Royal custom-houses in the sense mentioned at the beginning of this note.

A like instruction was also sent out by the Royal Hungarian ministry of finance to the custom-houses under its jurisdiction.

On the basis of this instruction, the chief custom-house at Trieste has now discontinued its former erroneous practice.

From this statement, the legation will kindly understand that the above-mentioned order by no means sets up a new practice (Hovum) directed against the importation of American bacon, i. e., American meat. On the contrary, has no other object than the binding of all custom-houses to the uniform application of the regulations in force.

The Imperial Royal Government regrets, therefore, that it is not in a position to order the withdrawal of the decree in question.

The undersigned avails, etc.

For the minister:
[Inclosure B.]

Translation of paragraph 13 of the regulations putting into operation the Austro-Hungarian tariff law of the 25th of May, 1882.

With reference to packings: A. When goods are packed in a number of inner wrappings the net weight is, in general, to be ascertained by the addition of all of these wrappings. The person liable to duty has the privilege, however, of separating the wrappings upon and near the outside from the goods, and of then withholding them from addition to the net weight of the goods, if he declares them separately, under the heading under which they would come under the tariff, and pays duty upon them accordingly.

In this manner a person liable for duty, for example, for the importation of gloves may have the net weight of the gloves as they are generally packed, surrounded by paper in pasteboard boxes, these boxes again packed in cases, ascertained either (1) by deducting the tare fixed by the tariff from the gross weight of the case, or (2) according to the weight of the filled pasteboard boxes, or (3) by separating the pasteboard boxes from the gloves, and declaring these boxes separately under the heading under which they would fall under the tariff.

[Page 47]

B. The inclosures to goods such as the boards and spools on which ribbons, yarns, and laces are named; the paper contained in bolts of various cloths, oilcloths, etc.; the coverings used by manufacturers for textile fabrics; the pasteboard or paper cards upon which various wares are fastened by the dozen or gross, and wrappings such as bottles, paper, pasteboard, cord, etc., which serve for the immediate preservation of wares, are not, in determining the net weight, to be deducted; neither is any kind of waste which may be mixed with the goods to be deducted.

C. On the contrary, materials which are apparently intended solely for the safety of wares while in transit and not for their further conservation—as, for example, hay, straw, sawdust, paper cuttings, etc., in the transportation of pottery, glass, and similar wares—are not to be added to the net weight nor are they to be declared separately.

Outer wrappings composed of straw, sedge, etc., as also the movable double bottoms of barrels containing fluids, may be removed before the process of weighing. In these cases, however, the higher rate of tare fixed for such packings of barrels, etc.—as, for example, in the case of tropical fruits—can not be claimed.

[Inclosure C.]

Mr. Harris to Count Goluchowski.

Your Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of Count Szecsen’s note of the 19th of May, 1899, replying to Mr. Herdliska’s note of the 15th of February, 1899, in which Mr. Herdliska requested that the ministerial decree exacting the same duty upon the salt in which meats from the United States are packed as upon the meat itself might be abolished, and American meats be permitted to enter the Austro-Hungarian Empire under the conditions heretofore existing.

It would seem that from the date of the Imperial customs act until last November, a period of eighteen years, the customs officers construed the act to mean that the duty on bacon imported into Austria-Hungary was computable on the actual weight of the meat only, and not upon the weight of either the box or the salt. This seems naturally just, as the salt, after being separated from the meat, has no commercial value.

It is a rule of wide application, and believed to be generally recognized, that a construction put upon a statute for a period of years by the officers whose duty it is to apply and enforce the same comes to be the true interpretation of the law, upon which all parties may safely rely. It would seem therefore that the complaint made on behalf of American shippers of bacon into this Empire is not groundless. Especially is this so in the light of the fact that the salt, when separated from the bacon, is commercially worthless.

By the construction now put upon the law by the order of November 11, 1898, this worthless and unsalable salt is weighed and computed as if it were of equal value with the bacon itself. It is but natural [Page 48] under the circumstances that the American shippers should feel that an unjust burden is being put upon their import. And this feeling is thought by the undersigned to be well founded.

It is noticed with pleasure that it is stated in Count Szecsen’s note that it is not the purpose of the Imperial and Royal Government “to set up a new practice against the importation of American bacon.” At the same time it would appear to be true, if the information had at this legation is not incorrect, that the bacon imported into the Imperial and Royal Empire comes almost wholly from the United States of America, so that the effect is had only upon those engaged in the production and importation of American bacon. This consequence leads the undersigned to express his regret that the Imperial and Royal Government did not see its way to return to the practice which seems to have been obtained for so many years.

The undersigned feels impelled to state to your excellency that by an act of the Congress of the United States of March 1, 1899, plenary power is conferred upon the Secretary of Agriculture to investigate, both by physical examination and chemical analysis, foods, drugs, liquors, and the like imported from foreign countries into the United States; and if found to be deleterious, or dangerous to health, to direct the Secretary of the Treasury to refuse the delivery of such goods to the consignee.

It is profoundly hoped that nothing will occur and no practice be pursued touching the importation of American products which might tend to cause the Secretary of Agriculture to do that which those engaged in exporting into the United States might feel to be unnecessary or burdensome.

In conclusion, permit me to assure your excellency that it will afford me great pleasure if you shall authorize me to say that the propriety of returning to the practice which obtained for so many years is still further under consideration.

I avail, etc.,

Addison C. Harris.