File No. 763.72/4738

The Ambassador in France ( Sharp ) to the Secretary of State

No. 5410

Sir: As the Department is aware, the French Government, in conjunction with its allies, has been active since the beginning of the war in restricting the commerce of the Central powers. The work in connection with this effort, which can be classed under the general head of “blockade”, has been apportioned at Paris between three committees, and I have the honor herewith to report to you regarding the results accomplished by these three committees, in so far as I have been able to learn from the Foreign Office, and to transmit a considerable amount of statistics and data in regard thereto.

This question, I have further treated at some length in my telegram No. 2068 of to-day’s date,1 but desire at this time to forward to the Department the information which has been supplied me by the French Government.

The three committees referred to are entitled respectively:

(1) Committee for Restricting the Provisioning and Commerce of the Enemy (Comité de Restriction des approvisionnements et du commerce de l’Ennemi).

(2) International Committee on “Contingents” (Commission internationale des Contingents).

This word “contingents” is difficult of interpretation into English as it has been adapted specially since the war in a sense previously not employed. Roughly, the word may be said to represent an average taken from the importations into a neutral country for several years, the said average being accepted as the annual amount allowed to pass into the said neutral country for each class of merchandise to which the “contingent” regime is applied.

(3) Permanent International Committee of Economic Action (Comity permanent international d’Action économique).

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These committees are all placed under the direction of a “Minister of Blockade,” who has the official title of “Under Secretary of State” in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, This office is at present held by Baron Denys Cochin, a member of the Chamber of Deputies, and a distinguished citizen of France who has devoted untiring effort to the accomplishment of the task which has been assigned him. His department, which is composed of a considerable staff, centralizes all economic information relative to the blockade and the economic situation of the Central Empires and furnishes technical reports and exhaustive documents and statistics which are of the greatest importance in the conduct of the economic policy of the Allies.

The Committee for Restricting the Provisioning and Commerce of the Enemy, is under the active presidency of Baron Denys Cochin and is composed of representatives technically qualified to decide either on the degree of utility of a product of enemy origin or on the advisability of accepting certain demands presented by private persons to obtain products or merchandise, the importation of which is generally prohibited in view of their origin.

The views of the Committee of Restriction serve as a technical basis for the decisions taken by the French Administration; it is also, when necessary, consulted by the commission in charge of embargo. The members of this committee, who are chosen for their scientific knowledge, are of French nationality, but the proceedings are attended by the counselors of the Italian and Russian Embassies at Paris and by a secretary of the British Embassy, representing their respective Governments.

Baron Denys Cochin has addressed to me an invitation to have this Embassy equally represented. Realizing the importance of this committee and the advisability of collecting information regarding its proceedings, I have replied that I would be glad to accept the invitation by delegating Mr. Bliss, the Counselor of the Embassy, to attend its meetings, and trust that my action will meet with the Department’s approval.

The duties of the Committee for Restriction are to gather information regarding the various arrangements or agreements made by the different commercial organizations in neutral countries, and I have the further honor to enclose herewith copies of these agreements, as well as certain reports submitted to this committee which have been supplied by Baron Denys Cochin.

These various agreements and reports are noted herewith in detail and form enclosure No. 1.1

There is also enclosed a note on the various committees of restriction organized in the Allied countries, namely, France, Great Britain, Japan, Portugal, and Russia, together with a translation thereof, both [Page 819] in duplicate (enclosure 2).1 This note contains detailed information regarding the methods and activities of these committees to which I invite the Department’s particular attention.

Also enclosed will be found minutes of the various meetings held by the committee from January 10, 1917, to March 28, 1917, and numbered 301 to 337 (enclosure 3).1

A further enclosure is added, entitled “Treatise on the Economic Relations of the Allies with Switzerland, by the Swiss Society of Economic Surveillance” commonly referred to as the S.S.S. (enclosure 4),1 to which is added the statutes of the said society (enclosure 5).1

The voluminous nature of the said treatise, as well as of the documents included under No. 1, does not permit of their being translated at the Embassy without subjecting this despatch to long delay.

The Swiss Society of Economic Surveillance deals with the first two committees treated in this despatch and cannot therefore be classed under either, although its principal negotiations are carried on with the second commission outlined in the next paragraph.

International Committee on “Contingents” (Commission international des Contingents) is charged with examining and determining “contingent” cases relative to Switzerland, in regard to the transit across France and Italy of merchandise and supplies which Switzerland requires for its subsistence. Its calculations are based on the statistics of imports in times of peace, deduction being made of the proportion of exports directed to the Central Empires.

At the present time it is discussing with Swiss delegates the eventuality of reducing for 1917 the special allowance accorded in 1916.

This commission is under the presidency of a French delegate and comprises representatives from Great Britain, Italy and Russia, and has a permanent bureau of an international character.

Baron Denys Cochin has urged upon me the importance of the United States being represented at this commission not only for the general establishment of the various questions which constitute the very essence of the blockade, but also to determine the means to be employed in the transit of merchandise from the United States.

The members of this commission are men of technical knowledge, having, particularly, training in regard to matters pertaining to customs duties and questions of a like nature, and should our Government desire to be represented on this committee, I beg to suggest that a person be chosen whose knowledge would render his services of use along these lines.

The Permanent International Committee of Economic Action (Comité permanent international d’Action economique). This committee is composed of representatives of the various Allied Governments and [Page 820] met at Paris in June, 1916, adopting resolutions which have already been transmitted to the Department in this Embassy’s despatches Nos. 3311 and 3544 of June 22 and August 25, 1916, respectively.1 There is enclosed herewith, in duplicate, a report upon the work of this committee in 1916, in which pamphlet will be found a list of delegates from the various countries and other information of importance to our Government (enclosure 6).2

This committee passes resolutions of a general nature concerning the Allied policy to be followed in matters relating to the blockade especially in regard to questions of insurance, black lists and contraband.

I beg to be informed whether the pamphlet referred to will not furnish the Department with the information requested of me in its confidential instruction No. 1524, of January 22, 1917.2

Baron Denys Cochin has likewise extended an invitation to the American Government to be represented at the meetings of this committee, and I would therefore request that you inform me by telegram what decision you may reach in this respect, and the name or names of such persons as you designate to represent the United States.

In respect to this general question, I have the honor to enclose a copy and translation (enclosure 7)2 of the communication from the Under Secretary, expressing the desire that the Government be represented in the first and last committees referred to herein. The question of representation in the Committee for “Contingents” was extended to me verbally by Monsieur Denys Cochin.

As regards the practical results obtained by these committees, I am led to believe that the second, that is, the one on “contingents” is the most fruitful, as its activities are devoted to the important task of controlling the supplies entering Switzerland. The work accomplished by the first-mentioned committee is also of valuable assistance to the French Government and its Allies in conducting the blockade, by reason of the reports on conditions in neutral and enemy countries which it places at the disposal of the various Allied chanceries. The deliberations of the third committee, are more academic than practical, but it has served as a medium for announcing certain policies of economic procedure acceptable in principle by the several Allied Governments, some of which have been put into execution such as the black list.

I have [etc.]

W. G. Sharp
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  7. No. 3311 printed in Foreign Relations, 1916, Supplement, p. 974; No. 3544 not printed.
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