The High Commissioner at Constantinople (Bristol) to the Secretary of State

Sir: The resumption of trade with Turkey was accomplished by notice published in the papers in Constantinople on the 26th of February, 1919, stating that the blockade had been removed beginning with February 21, 1919. This notice was published by the French Vice-Admiral, Commander of the Allied Squadron of the Mediterranean. The French Vice-Admiral at that time was the French High Commissioner. This notice did not state that the resumption of trade had been directed by the Supreme War Council at Paris. Further, I have ascertained that the Ottoman Government was given no further information regarding the resumption of trade than the above notice. The Ottoman Government was, therefore, under the impression that this was an act of the Allied Powers.

As soon as the blockade was raised I took up the question with the Allied High Commissioners by conversations, desiring to establish the fact that the United States was, by the provisions of the Supreme War Council, directly interested in the regulations affecting trade with Turkey, Bulgaria, Asia Minor and the ports of the Black Sea. At first there was no United States trade that was affected. In some individual cases where American interests were affected, I took them up immediately and had them satisfactorily adjusted. However, in order to establish the principle, I began direct negotiations with the Allied High Commissioners on 29 April, 1919, to the end that the United States should be properly represented in respect to the regulations of trade with Turkey, Bulgaria, Asia Minor and Black Sea ports. Finally, as set forth in enclosure (a),31 made a direct appeal for a proper recognition of United States rights on the ground that American interests were not being properly safeguarded under the arrangements then in force regulating trade with Turkey, Bulgaria and the Black Sea ports of Roumania and Russia. I followed this up by having personal conferences with the Allied High Commissioners, setting forth more in detail the matters that were interfering with trade, not only to the prejudice of the United States but of other countries.

On December 17, 1919, the Allied High Commissioners replied to my letter agreeing to the appointment of a Committee to be made [Page 758] up of a representative of Great Britain, France, Italy and the United States. In reply to this letter I appointed a member of my Staff to represent the United States on this Committee. The first meeting of this Committee was held on 20 December, 1919. The Committee was organized and it was decided to designate this committee as the “Advisory Trade Committee of the Associated Governments.” It was arranged to have a revolving chairmanship. The United States representative on the Committee was able to have Mr. George Wadsworth, Vice Consul, designated as permanent Secretary of the Committee. I was very much gratified at this as the secretary is an important factor in the work of such a committee and by this arrangement United States interests should be properly looked out for.

The first thing taken up by the Committee was the question of the import taxes being collected by the Ottoman Government [not] in accordance with the Capitulations. The Capitulations had not been carried out in this respect and I had taken this matter up several times previously. The Allied High Commissioners had informed me that they were closing their eyes to this fact on account of the precarious condition of the Ottoman finances. I did not admit this as a proper reason and had so informed the Allied High Commissioners previously. About this time the Ottoman Government addressed a note to the Allied High Commissioners and to the United States High Commissioner suggesting the resumption of import taxes according to the Capitulations. However, the Ottoman Government desired to modify the method of levying the ad valorem duties in carrying out the provisions of the Capitulations. As a result of this request from the Ottoman Government a meeting was held by the High Commissioners of the Associated Governments. The result of this meeting was a joint note, see enclosure (b),4 addressed to the Sublime Porte. No reply has been received from this note up to the present time.

In connection with the taxes by the Ottoman Government, which were specific taxes and not in accord with the Capitulations, I beg to state that United States interests were not injured by these specific taxes; therefore, the principle of the Capitulations was always maintained and the change to an ad valorem tax in accordance with the Capitulations has been claimed simply upon principle, and to provide for a change of conditions which would materially affect adversely American commerce. At the aforesaid conference the Allied High Commissioners pointed out that they did not consider they were in a position to demand of the Turkish Government an [Page 759] enforcement of the Capitulations. This position assumed by them is very interesting. Of course the United States, at the present time, can make no demands that are not supported by the Allied High Commissioners. I have taken the ground, however, that whereas I have joined with the Allied High Commissioners in urging the Ottoman Government to resume taxation on imports in accordance with the Treaty, I will likewise take such independent steps along this line in urging the Ottoman Government to collect only such taxes as are legal. It is my opinion that the only legal taxes are those that were prescribed and in force before the war.

The real motive of the Turkish Government in not charging import taxes in accordance with the Capitulations is that they are standing out for the abrogation of the Capitulations. With their usual short-sighted policy they do not realize that they are prejudicing their cause by this attitude. They would improve their cause if they would return to the Capitulations, doing so under protest. Also, as the taxes now being paid are paid under protest, the Turkish Government will some day have to settle the bill. Likewise, they do not realize that the final revenue collected would be greater under the Capitulations than under the present method of specific taxes. I will continue to maintain the position towards the Ottoman Government that the United States expects the Capitulations to be carried out in respect to the import taxes, as well as all other matters. These questions have been taken up many times directly with the Ottoman Government in an informal manner as required in view of diplomatic relations being severed.


Mark L. Bristol

The American, British, French, and Italian High Commissioners to the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs

Con 124–20

In reply to various proposals made to them with a view to substituting an ad valorem tariff for the specific tariff applied at present, the High Commissioners of France, Great Britain and Italy, with whom the High Commissioner of the United States of America has associated himself on this occasion, have the honor to bring the following to the knowledge of the Sublime Porte.

[Page 760]

The specific tariff which was applied during the period of hostilities has never been recognized or admitted by the Allied and Associated Governments.

Consequently the Allied High Commissioners, who, after the conclusion of the Armistice, had demanded the reapplication of the ad valorem tariff and who had only tolerated the application of a specific-tariff at the request of the Ottoman Government and as an exception and temporary measure, are disposed to receive a fresh demand from the Ottoman Government relative to the reapplication of the zd valorem tariff.

But the Ottoman Government today proposes that the import duties be fixed not as formerly after valuation at the customs house of the value of the goods imported and according to the price of their invoices, but according to the list of values of those goods established, in categories to be fixed in advance and to be revised monthly or quarterly.

The undersigned High Commissioners declare that they have not the power to accept the proposed modification in the manner of establishing the value of merchandise. The new system suggested would, in effect, amount to a radical change in the methods formerly applied with the consent of the Powers and would consequently involve serious consequences for the foreign commerce. It would therefore not only be necessary that the principle of the system before it is put into effect be submitted to the approval of the Powers but even the list of prices of the merchandise according to which the customs duties would be fixed, would have to be examined, considered and approved by the interested governments, which would necessarily involve long delays.

After having examined this important question the undersigned High Commissioners have decided not only to give their consent to the reapplication of the ad valorem tariff but to insist that this tariff be reestablished at the expiration of a period of ten days from the date of publication of the law or decree to be promulgated to that effect, and that it be applied under the same conditions as before the opening of hostilities.

They are, moreover, ready to submit for the examination and study of their respective Governments the proposed scheme for the establishment, by means of a list drawn up in advance, of the value of imported merchandise as well as the list itself of these values which was communicated to them.

[No signatures indicated]
  1. Not printed.
  2. Infra.
  3. File translation revised.