The Acting Secretary of State to the French Chargé (De Chambrun)60
Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Ambassador’s note of November 27, 1918,61 by which he informed the Department of State that the Société Coloniale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie, a French concern, in which American interests are said to participate, had filed with the Liberian Government an application for the concession of a harbor at Monrovia and a railway connecting that town with the Franco–Liberian boundary. The Ambassador added that the application of this company was to be presented to the Liberian Congress which was to convene on December 2, 1918, and that the French Government would attach great value to having the United States Government instruct its representative at Monrovia to support the action which his French colleague had been directed to take in the matter.
While it is not stated in the Ambassador’s note what action your Government has instructed its Minister at Monrovia to take in the matter, it may be observed that on August 7, 1917 the Liberian Legislature passed an Act governing the application for and the granting of concessions in Liberia. Under the terms of this Act, impartiality of consideration and equality of treatment to all applications not monopolistic in character are provided for and the indiscriminate granting of concessions is guarded against.
From an examination of the terms of the application for concession made by the Société Coloniale, as they have been reported to the Department of State, it would appear that certain provisions of the application may not wholly conform to existing Liberian law touching concessions in that country, which provisions, it is assumed, would necessarily require modification if they are to be brought into consonance with the Act referred to above. Moreover, it is understood [Page 518] that the Liberian Legislature, now in session, is not likely to take any action on this or any other application until certain matters regarding Liberia’s financial status shall have been brought to a more definite conclusion, after which time the American financial program, of which the French Government has been advised, will be put into operation.
Under these circumstances and in view of the impartial character of the law of August 7, 1917, referred to above, this Government regrets that it is not in a position to support this application for concession of the Société Coloniale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie.
The Government of the United States, having granted a credit of $5,000,000 to Liberia, desires that the economic development of Liberia’s resources be carefully safeguarded, as they constitute one of the best potential assets of the Republic. It is highly desirable, in the eyes of this Government, that additional capital be invested in Liberia, that additional trading and commercial houses be established and that suitable general concessions be granted for the development of Liberia’s natural wealth and resources. This Government does not doubt that it is the desire of the Liberian Government that French capital seeking investment in Liberia should be granted an equal opportunity, and I may add that this desire is fully shared by the United States. This Government feels, however, that all applications for concessions should be carefully considered and that the natural wealth of Liberia shall be safeguarded in order that the future prosperity of the Republic and of the Liberian people may be assured.
In view of the sympathetic sentiments expressed by your Government regarding Liberia’s future development, I do not doubt that the views as expressed herein will be agreeable and acceptable to the Government of the French Republic.
This Government is of the opinion that the development of Liberia’s potential resources can better be secured through a grouping of interests or a series of coordinated concessions, rather than through a system of independent and competitive concessions. By continuing the existing practice, conflicting or overlapping rights will unquestionably arise which will delay the work of development and run counter to Liberia’s best interests.
It is the desire of the United States Government that this policy of rehabilitation through coordinated concessions should proceed as soon as the exchange of views between this Government and the Governments of France and Great Britain regarding Liberian matters shall have been concluded. With this in view and upon the termination of these negotiations, it is contemplated that the financial adviser of Liberia will proceed to France and England to confer with [Page 519] the financial interests concerned in order to perfect an acceptable program of concessions and development.