File No. 763.72/4996

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

No. 5449

Sir: Referring to my despatch No. 5434 of the 4th instant,1 I have the honor to comply with my promise therein made by transmitting herewith a complete translation of the report of Mr. Denys Cochin of the Foreign Office.

A perusal of the various tables contained in pages 13 to 15,2 both inclusive, will be very instructive as well as illuminating—especially so is the comment made at the head of page 14 in reference to “the enormous diminution that exports of foodstuffs from the northern countries to England have undergone during the years 1915–16.” The facts learned from this report would seem most assuredly to point to the source from which Germany has in a large part received her foodstuffs during the past year.

I have [etc.]

W. G. Sharp

Report of the French Minister of Blockade ( Cochin)


Now that the United States have joined the belligerents, it is necessary to consider the best direction their activities can take in all departments, and at what particular point their assistance can complete the work commenced by the Allies.

As far as the food and economic blockade is concerned, it would appear that, little by little, the Allied countries have taken all measures compatible with international law and political exigencies, short of coming into conflict with neutrals on military and naval grounds, so dangerous from a diplomatic point of view. The appearance on the scene of the United States will change this state of things.

With regard to Switzerland, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries, having territorial or maritime frontiers in common with the enemy, the Allies have adopted two methods of procedure:

1. Consignment to trustworthy societies.

In order not to deprive these neutrals of goods necessary to them for food and for the upkeep of their normal commercial existence, while taking precautions that such merchandise does not continue its journey to enemy territory, the Allies have founded in the various [Page 822] countries, societies sufficiently powerful and approved of by the local authorities, who undertake to receive consignments of goods sent to them, and to see that they are not re-exported to the enemy.

The first of these organisations was the “Netherlands Oversea Trust” in Holland, then followed “The Swiss Society of Economic Supervision,” the Danish Guilds, and many associations of Norwegian manufacturers and consumers were formed.

We may say that these societies have given perfect satisfaction, having applied themselves with energy and utility to the superintendence of the goods consigned to them. The Allies may congratulate themselves upon having resorted to this method, which safeguards the sovereign rights of neutral states and prevents friction and conflict.

2. The rationing of products imported into neutral countries.

In order to increase the power of action of the above-mentioned organisations, to discourage smuggling on the part of secondhand purchasers, and to induce the governments of neutral states to see that, in the interests of the population, the prohibitions laid down by them are duly carried into effect, it was thought advisable to limit the amount of imports to that received by each neutral in time of peace, while deducting that portion they had been in the habit of re-exporting to enemy countries. This is what is called the system of rations or contingents.

In Switzerland, this policy has been somewhat strictly applied, thanks to the formation in Paris of a commission, represented by France, Great Britain, Italy and Russia. Switzerland can only receive supplies via France or Italy, and the International Commission of Contingents, informed by the customs of the two countries of all imports into Switzerland, is able to follow them day by day and to stop them as soon as they are informed that the contingent has been exhausted. As a matter of fact, the Allies have decided to revise the contingents and to reduce them, not from any mistrust of Switzerland, but on account of the ever increasing difficulties of transport, both by land and sea. This revision is now terminated.

In Holland and Scandinavia the application of the rationing system presented great difficulties. It was indeed necessary to stop goods in mid-sea, and consequently, a special right of examination and detention had to be established for the inspection of neutral merchandise under a neutral flag. These measures went against the interests of the neutral country of production and the neutral country of destination. In combining the theory of the continued voyage with the rationing policy, the English prize courts have established a law authorising the seizure of neutral merchandise under a neutral flag when it is proved that the goods are being imported in quantities so [Page 823] much above the normal as to render local consumption impossible, and thus warranting the presumption that they would find their way into enemy territory.

Thanks to the measures of rationing and consignment, it has been possible to prevent the neutral countries adjoining Germany from being used for the transport, by land or sea, of goods which are under the control of the Allies.

It must, however, be borne in mind that these measures cannot be brought to bear upon the products of the soil, cattle and agricultural produce. In order to control this class of production, it would be necessary to hold up fodder, fertilizing material, and the mineral oils used for the motors of fishing-boats, all of which products, exported chiefly from the United States, undergo various changes in the country to which they are consigned, arriving finally in enemy territory in a state of complete transformation. The fact that the Allies themselves are not producers of agricultural materials and its being to the interest of Great Britain to encourage the production of such material in neutral countries, whence she draws part of her food supplies, increased the difficulty of laying down rules with regard to exports of home produce from countries such as Holland and Denmark. (This peculiar situation with its attendant unfortunate consequences, is detailed in the annexed notes.)

Though we may say with truth that the system of rationing and consignment has been thoroughly carried into effect in Switzerland, and with appreciable results, it must be admitted that Germany continues to obtain from Holland and Scandinavia supplies that are by no means negligible, and which, in fact, may be estimated roughly at 2,300,000 tons for the year 1916 alone, 1,250,000 of which came from Holland, and 500,000 from Norway, i. e., enough to supply nearly the whole German Army for a year.

All reports reaching us from enemy countries point clearly to the growing scarcity of food, and in order that existing supplies may last until the next harvest, the German Imperial Government have fixed alimentary rations that are scarcely sufficient to keep non-working adults alive, and are manifestly insufficient for those that work. It is no doubt to this scarcity of food that the labour troubles in Germany are to be ascribed; the men do less work, and it is necessary to shorten the working day and considerably increase the number of hands, in order to meet the demands of war.

It may be concluded, therefore, that if Germany were obliged to forego the food supplies now coming from her neutral neighbours Holland and Denmark, she would find it impossible to maintain the industrial effort necessary to keep her armies in ammunition and explosives, and would be obliged to draw upon the stock intended for fighting men in order to supply the workmen with food. In either [Page 824] case, her military force would be considerably diminished. It is also to be remembered that the prolongation of the bad weather, by delaying the harvest, increases the chances of success of a more restrictive policy; and if the Allies wish to reap the immediate benefit of their control of the seas, such policy should be carried into effect without delay.

We have enumerated above the obstacles encountered by the Allies in their attempt to isolate Germany. These obstacles can now be removed by the United States who are, as a matter of fact, producers of materials, without which Holland, Denmark and Sweden can maintain neither their agriculture nor their raising of stock. America can therefore now demand, as a belligerent, that the goods she produces shall go only to neutral consumers and, even after undergoing transformation, shall not serve to feed the enemy and maintain his powers of resistance. In laying down as a condition of the delivery of oil cakes, fertilizing and other agricultural raw material, and petroleum oils, that the importing country shall not re-export to the enemy the products of their soil, America would only be applying the generally admitted rule of international law, viz., that a belligerent is bound to prevent the production of his soil from being used for the benefit of the adversary. This principle has been recognised by the neutrals themselves, Switzerland having admitted that coal supplied to her manufacturers by Germany, could not be used in the fabrication of goods intended for the Allies, even if the other elements of the manufactured object were of neutral or Allied origin.

It will perhaps be objected that, if deprived of the fodder and manure necessary to the preservation of their cattle, the neutrals would be forced to sacrifice all their property and make it over to Germany, thus supplying her with momentary abundance. This argument need hardly be considered, however, as, by so proceeding, the neutrals would ruin their agricultural prospects and lay themselves open to famine for the following year.

One may also argue that the decrease in agricultural produce which would be the result of the cessation of American exports to neutral countries, would deprive Great Britain of the food supplies she draws from these countries. Let it be remembered above all (see notes annexed) that since the note issued by Germany of the 31st January, England, in spite of all her efforts, is far from receiving a normal amount of supplies from neutral countries, whereas the share of Germany has greatly increased. One has reason to believe, however, that owing to the influence of the United States, the neutrals will have to do without the German market and will have to resort to that of England in order to dispose profitably of their redundance. [Page 825] When it is found that profit is only to be made in England, sellers and conveyors will not hesitate to take the risks of obtaining it.

It is, therefore, certainly of the most vital importance that this condition of affairs be laid before the United States Government, and that they be asked to take the necessary measures to hasten a victorious peace, which is the natural desire of all the Allies, but more especially of France who, with Belgium has had to bear the most cruel and heavy sacrifices. The Norwegian Government, moreover, has admitted to our Ambassador at Christiania the necessity and efficacity of such measures, and did not hide the fact that “the intervention of America would place the North at the mercy of the Allies.” (Christiania, 14th April.)

A number of notes annexed hereto indicate the measures that might be recommended to our American allies.


Notes of the French Minister of Blockade ( Cochin) Indicating Blockade Measures Recommended to American Allies

Note I

Since the opening of hostilities, the various belligerents have drawn up lists of prohibited exports, some of which, if considered of vital necessity to a given country, are authorised by way of exceptions, which are freely accorded, but under strict guarantee of their non-reexportation into enemy territory. The required guarantees are of two kinds:

Consignment to a society formed in the neutral country of import, entrusted with the superintendence of the quantities consumed.
The classification in so called “black lists” of suspected firms, to whom all shipments are refused.

It is evident, however, that neither of these measures are in themselves sufficient, as it is impossible for the local society to control the merchandise throughout all phases of transaction, and a black list is never sufficiently complete. A suspected firm can always make use of an agent or man of straw, who acts for them, and is only discovered after the harm is done.

It follows, therefore, that the list of prohibitions should be very comprehensive, and very strictly applied.

Note II

Arrangements have been made with the following societies:

  • In Holland: The Netherlands Oversea Trust.
  • In Switzerland: The Swiss Society of Economic Superintendence.
  • In Denmark: The Association of Copenhagen Dealers, and the Danish Chamber of Manufacturers.
  • In Norway: A number of agreements have been made by the British Government with various associations of manufacturers and importers. The following are the agreements to which the French Government are parties:
    “Canners’ Union,” Stavanger.
    2, 3, 4, 5.
    With the various associations of margarine manufacturers.
    The Association of Manufacturers of Lubricating Oils.
    The Norwegian Automobile Club for Pneumatic Tyres.
    With the Norwegian tanners.
    With the Syndicate of Dealers in Oils and Colours.
    The Association of Manufacturers of Paper and Chemical Pastes.
    With the soap manufacturers.
    With the Norwegian Government with regard to the export of jute.
    With the Association of Wholesale Grocers.
    With the various groups representing the preserving industry.
    With the chocolate manufacturers.
    With the wholesale food purveyors.
    The Association of Importers of Grain and Flour.
    Agreement with regard to bicycle tyres.
    Agreement with the Norwegian Food Commission.

It would be very interesting if the Government of the United States became also party to these agreements. They all entail the obligation to receive certain consignments for local consumption, under guarantee of non-reexportation to the enemy, such guarantee to apply to the imported product in its original, or any modified form whatsoever.

An agreement has been made between France, England, and Sweden which, if ratified, would take off the embargo which is now laid on all goods destined to Sweden.

Note III


The British Government, with the assent of the Allies, applies the rationing system to neutral countries bordering on Germany in “law” or in “fact”.

The system is said to be applied in “law”, when an agreement is made with the government or with a society of the neutral country, by which a maximum ration is fixed to cover a given period of time. If it is then proved by experience that the amount is too large, fresh arrangements are made with a view to its diminution, and, as a matter of fact, a general revision has just taken place in a restrictive sense with regard to consignments to Switzerland, and the same measures will shortly be adopted for Holland and Denmark.

[Page 827]

The rationing system is applied “in fact” to all products (excepting in case of special arrangement) which are proved by British naval statistics to be entering a neutral country in quantities considerably greater than those imported before the war, exclusive of the amount re-exported.

The system is however inadequate, as all boats are not subject to compulsory inspection by cruisers, and the prices offered by Germany for commodities she lacks being high enough to encourage neutrals to keep only what is absolutely necessary for their own use.

Note IV

The attention of the United States Government has already been called to the necessity of the establishment of “black lists”. They are of two kinds: official lists published in the Journal Officiel, and confidential lists, which are submitted to governments only.

The French and British Governments have drawn up these lists in mutual agreement, and those appearing in the Journal Officiel are, with few exceptions, identical with the English statutory lists. At the outset, the English and French confidential lists differed widely, but gradually became more and more alike. The French Government included on their confidential fist, for the countries of Northern Europe, all those firms appearing on the English general black list, to whom they strictly prohibited shipments to be made.

With regard to Switzerland, the British and Italian Governments apply the French confidential black list, which is communicated to the delegate of the “Société Suisse de Surveillance Economique” in Paris, and no permit is accorded by the “Commission des Dérogations” to firms appearing thereon. Goods addressed to any such firm and consigned to the “S. S. S.” are stopped at the frontier by the custom or other competent authorities.

It would appear infinitely desirable that the U. S. Government accept the French black lists at once, forbidding all exports of any kind whatever to the firms included thereon.

As far as South America is concerned, the French Government confine themselves to the use of the list appearing in the Journal Officiel.

Note V

If the United States Government do not decide simply to put a stop to all shipments to Northern Europe, it would appear absolutely necessary that they make a declaration to the effect that no goods sent to them from America be re-exported to the Central Empires, under any form whatsoever. It would merely be a matter of putting into rigorous practice the following clause of article 5 of the agreement made by France on the 7th December, with the “Netherlands Oversea Trust.”

[Page 828]

The Netherlands Oversea Trust guarantee that all goods consigned to themselves shall be consumed actually in Holland. … This guarantee applies not only to products in their state of importation, but to all articles manufactured or composed therefrom.

For instance, margarine made from fatty substances of oversea origin, cattle fattened on oil cake, and the crops produced by fertilizing material coming from America, must not be re-exported to Germany.

(A similar clause to the above is added to all agreements made with confidential societies in Switzerland, Denmark, and Norway.)

Consequently, it would be well to simply declare that no raw material will be authorised to enter the country, if intended for the fattening of cattle, or for the production of crops to be re-exported to Germany.

Local produce similar to goods imported by the Allies, but in no way connected with or dependent upon them, would come under the same régime. It was stipulated in the agreement made at The Hague between the French Legation and the “Netherlands Oversea Trust,” that no export permit would be granted, either directly or indirectly, for goods existing or produced in the country, similar to those consigned by sea to the trust. In case of violation of this rule, the trust would be no longer allowed to receive consignments of foreign products similar to the locally produced goods exported. All substitutes for meat would be prohibited to enter Holland, if the Dutch Government had authorised the export of cattle or meat into Germany.

The rigorous application of these two rules would undoubtedly result in a more effective blockade than that at present in force.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Tables not printed.
  3. A copy of the French original, transmitted in the Ambassador’s despatch No. 5434, of May 4, is stamped with the date “23 Avr. 1917.” (File No. 763.72/4737.)