Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1915, Supplement, The World War
File No. 763.72112/627
The Ambassador in Great Britain (Page) to the Secretary of State
[Received January 18.]
Sir: Just a day or two before the receipt of your note to the British Government about shipping, I received from the Foreign Office a memorandum covering the several kinds of difficulties that we encounter. I do not know that this memorandum is now of any particular value, nevertheless I herewith enclose a copy to you.
I have [etc.]
The British Foreign Office to the American Embassy
- In view of some of the criticisms to which the measures taken by His Majesty’s Government for checking the sea-borne trade in contraband have been exposed, they desire to state that the sole object of those measures has been to prevent contraband from reaching their enemies, whether direct or through neutral countries.
- Their task has of late been lightened, and consequently the unavoidable inconvenience caused to neutral shipping by the exercise of the belligerent right of search reduced, by the fact that several of the neutral countries contiguous to Germany and Austria have, for the protection of their home markets, prohibited the exportation from their respective territories of large classes of commodities. Where articles on the lists of contraband are covered by such prohibitions of export from a particular neutral country, the belligerents find themselves relieved of the necessity of enquiring as to any ulterior destination of goods consigned to that country, provided the prohibition is effectively enforced.
- Lists of the commodities of which the export is at this moment prohibited from Italy, Switzerland, the three Scandinavian countries and Holland, are attached hereto.1 It should be observed that these lists are not final, but are being added to from time to time.
- Under the rules in force in the Scandinavian countries, the exportation of all the articles on their respective prohibited lists remains freely permitted from each one of them to either of the others and as their lists are not uniform—some comprising items which are not included in the others—this system of exceptions has to a certain extent neutralized the effect of the prohibition, and so failed to afford the belligerents any certainty that shipments of a particular commodity, whilst ostensibly consigned to one of these neutral States, are not in fact destined for the enemy, intended to reach him by the roundabout way of reexportation through a neighboring neutral country.
- There is, however, a growing tendency on the part of the three Scandinavian States to assimilate their enactments, in this respect, and to the extent that their lists of prohibited exports are approaching uniformity, it will become easier to distinguish the bona fide import trade into these countries of goods having a potentially contraband character from frankly contraband trade really intended merely to pass through them in transit to enemy territory.
- Another difficulty of a more general kind, which arises specially in the case of certain metals on the contraband list, such as copper, nickel, lead, and aluminium, and also of rubber, is that the prices ruling in the enemy countries are so high as to make it profitable to import even goods manufactured from those raw materials, or their alloys, for the purpose of melting them down. Where the export of the manufactured article is not also prohibited, this difficulty is in some cases met by the importing firms giving special guarantees that the goods to be manufactured from the imported metals or rubber will not in fact reach the enemy.
- Subject to the above safeguards, no difficulty is now, practically, made in allowing cargoes of goods on the lists of exports prohibited respectively from Italy, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark to pass freely to those countries if addressed to named bona fide consignees, except of course in cases where His Majesty’s Government are in possession of special information that particular shipments have in fact an enemy destination.
- The case of Switzerland is somewhat different, as the Federal Government maintain the right to grant unlimited dispensations from their prohibitions of export, which moreover do not include articles manufactured from the contraband metals, or rubber. In these circumstances, His Majesty’s Government feel compelled to enquire into the ulterior destination of individual shipments, at least of certain classes of goods, such as copper and the other contraband metals, rubber, and petroleum, whilst allowing most other commodities on the contraband lists freely to pass to Italian ports in transit for Switzerland if consigned to named persons on through bills of lading. There are indications that Switzerland may gradually harmonize her system of prohibitions with that enforced in Italy by eliminating some of the features which at present make it necessary for the belligerents to take special measures of precaution in the case of shipments with a Swiss destination.
- It may here be observed that the effect of the Italian decree of November 13, 1914, absolutely prohibiting the reexportation of certain classes of goods landed at Italian ports, has been to hold up in Italy a large number of cargoes which, although consigned on the bills of lading to Italian ports, were really intended for Switzerland. The Swiss Government have been most anxious that the British Government should press at Rome for the release of such cargoes, but the British Government have had to point out the difficulties in the way of their inviting Italy to weaken the operation of her decrees of prohibition, whose effective enforcement is a matter of great practical importance to them: for the Italian Government, if they were to accede to this Swiss request at the instance of Great Britain, would not thereafter be in a position to refuse analogous demands for dispensations on the part of Germany and Austria which might be made under conditions ensuring that consignments of particular goods found their way to those countries. His Majesty’s Ambassador at Rome has however been instructed to use his good offices with the view of facilitating an amicable arrangement between the Swiss and Italian Governments in so far as cargoes are concerned which were shipped before the date of the Italian decree (November 13), and it is hoped and believed that a satisfactory settlement will in this way be arrived at.
- A system of prohibitions of export is equally in force in the Netherlands. Owing however to the provisions of the Rhine conventions, these prohibitions are entirely ineffective as regards cargoes arriving in the ordinary way oversea, since, under those conventions, all goods even although accompanied by bills of lading to named consignees in Holland may, on arrival at Rotterdam, be declared to be in transit, so that, not being technically classed as imports, they automatically escape the operation of the prohibitions of export. The fact, therefore, that certain commodities appear on the Dutch list of prohibited exports, affords no security that they will not in fact, on reaching Holland, be allowed to pass direct into Germany. It has however been ascertained that if goods are consigned either to the Netherlands Government themselves, or to an association called the Netherlands Oversea Trust, they are certainly destined for home consumption and will not be permitted to leave the country save in exceptional circumstances. His Majesty’s Government have accordingly decided not for the present to interfere with any goods addressed either to the Netherlands Government or to the Netherlands Oversea Trust and to restrict their scrutiny of ultimate hostile destination to the case of cargoes going to Holland not so consigned.
- In laying down the foregoing rules for the present guidance of the several British authorities in dealing with cargoes of goods listed as contraband that are on their way to neutral countries contiguous to Germany or Austria, His Majesty’s Government must not be understood to consider themselves bound by them indefinitely or in all circumstances. Should it be found more particularly that in spite of the prohibitions of export enacted by neutral countries, commodities on the prohibited lists are nevertheless entering those countries in quantities obviously exceeding any possible requirements of the respective home markets, His Majesty’s Government reserve the right to enquire seriously into the bona fides of such large importations.
- Not printed.↩