File No. 763.72112/1363

The Minister in the Netherlands (Van Dyke) to the Secretary of State

No. 299]

Sir: Referring to your instruction No. 127 of June 19, I have the honor to make the following report, which I trust may help to a clearer understanding of the position and activities of the Netherlands Oversea Trust:

This trust is a private corporation, composed of representatives of some of the most important and solid banks and shipping companies in the Netherlands. It is not a branch or department of the Dutch Government. It was formed primarily for the purpose of facilitating the commerce of the Netherlands in contraband goods by giving guaranties that these goods would not be exported from the Netherlands to belligerent countries. These guaranties of the Over-sea Trust the Allied Governments agreed to accept as valid and efficient. Owing to the practical abolition of a distinction between contraband, conditional contraband, and non-contraband, which was made by the British order in council of March 5, the Oversea Trust has extended its operations to goods of all kinds. (See my despatches 186, of January 4;1 191, of January 9;2 and 201 of February 1.3)
The position of the Netherlands Government in regard to the various restraints on lneutral commerce which have been imposed by the different orders and proclamations of the belligerents, is precisely that of the United States; namely, a refusal to admit the legal right of these restraints under international law, and a willingness, while reserving these rights, to permit the finding of some temporary modus vivendi which would preserve as much elbowroom as possible for the trade of neutral nations. The Netherlands Government perceived at once that if a private corporation could be formed to conduct conversations and negotiations in regard to this modus vivendi, it would have the great advantage of relieving the Government itself from all official responsibility in the matter, and thus avoiding any danger of compromising those reserved rights to which reference has been made. This was the primary reason for the creation of the Oversea Trust.
The second reason for its creation was the need of having a piece of machinery especially constructed for this purpose of promoting and facilitating trade under the present difficult conditions more quickly and more efficiently than any government department [Page 278] could do. The Oversea Trust being in the closest possible touch with the banking, mercantile, and commercial interests of the country, and having established relations of confidence with the Allied Governments, has been able to do its work with a degree of rapidity and accuracy most beneficial to the interests of Netherlands trade.
Referring to the last paragraph of your instruction 127, I would say that as the Oversea Trust is a purely Dutch corporation, established primarily for the purpose of furthering and safeguarding Dutch commerce, it naturally gives the first attention to the object for which it was created. But as the commerce of no one nation can be conducted without commerce with other nations, so the Oversea Trust has been serviceable in a less degree to the trade of other neutral states, including the United States of America. I have not been able to discover any activities on the part of the trust, which may properly be regarded as “discriminating against the United States” in comparison with other neutral countries. But it is true that on the whole the trust has done more for the trade of the Netherlands than for that of any other nation. This was the intention.

I observe that other neutral countries, like Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway, are now taking steps toward the formation of similar trusts, in order to obtain like benefits for their trade in the present abnormal circumstances of restraint and difficulty, which have been created by the action of the belligerent nations.

I would respectfully refer the Department to the closing paragraphs in my despatches 201 of February 1,1 and 244 of April 2,2 in which I suggested the possible value to American commerce of a responsible, but non-governmental body, similar to the Oversea Trust in general character, but modified in accordance with the difference in conditions, which might render the same services to American trade as the trust is rendering to Dutch trade, without in any way involving our Government in the necessary negotiations for a modus vivendi under maritime orders and regulations, whose legal validity our Government is not prepared to admit without further question.

I have [etc.]

Henry van Dyke
  1. Not printed.
  2. Ante, p. 269
  3. Ante, p. 270
  4. Ante, p. 270.
  5. Not printed.