The Minister in Switzerland (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

No. 190
L. N. No. 1010

Sir: I have the honor to submit herewith a report concerning the convention relative to the Abolition of Prohibitions and Restrictions on Exports and Imports.

The convention falls naturally into certain sub-divisions:

Articles 1 and 2 represent the positive achievement of the convention. In these articles the High Contracting Parties undertake to abolish, within a period of six months after the date of the coming into force of the convention, prohibitions and restrictions on export and import.

Articles 4, 5 and 6 contain the list of exceptions. Article 4 contains an enumeration of exceptions under which the signatory states reserve the right to maintain prohibitions and restrictions for certain specified purposes. This class of exceptions are all of a permanent nature.

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Article 5 provides for those exceptions which may arise of a temporary and unforeseen character. It provides for those acts by states which may be rendered essential by calamities, wars and other unforeseen and non-recurring causes.

Article 6 provides for certain stipulated and listed exceptions specifically reserved for individual states, after an examination on their merits, which are either temporary in character or of no importance to international commerce.

Articles 8 and 9 are the arbitration clauses, the one obligatory on all signatories of the convention and the other optional for such states as desire to extend the scope of arbitration.

Articles 3, 7, 10, 11 and 12 are in the nature of explanatory material, making more precise the limits of the rights and obligations assumed under the convention.

Articles 14 to 19 inclusive, treat the method of signature, ratification and denunciation, as well as the admission of reservations.

As I pointed out in my telegraphic reports from Geneva, it was apparent to one who followed the matter closely that from the first day of the conference the greatest difficulty which would be encountered lay in the determination of the British Delegation to maintain their prohibitions and limitations relative to the import of dye stuffs. Nearly all the other delegations expressed themselves ready to abolish without reservation restrictions and prohibitions. (Whether this was done because they knew that they were entirely safe in promising such procedure because they knew the British would stand firm in their decision, or whether this announcement represented sincere conviction is impossible to say with any degree of certainty. In any case all the principal states are on record as being willing to abolish restrictions and prohibitions, with the exception of those of no commercial importance, if Great Britain will abolish this one restriction.) Therefore, when the moment came to discuss the list of exceptions (now appearing in articles 4, 5 and 6), the conference was faced with the choice either of writing a convention so phrased as to admit the claim of Great Britain and thus permit her to be a signatory, or to draft a convention as tight as or tighter than the original draft of the Economic Committee. Great Britain would then not have signed the convention. Rightly or wrongly, the choice was made in favor of the first alternative and it can be said roughly that the type of convention which issued from the conference was designed in its broad lines to meet the needs of Great Britain and make it possible for that nation to be a signatory.

As I examine the protocol to the convention, it does not seem necessary to enter into any detailed analysis. The articles are interpretative in character and those which are of particular interest to [Page 284] us I have discussed already in my preceding reports, both telegraphic and written.

Also in regard to the Final Act, if the Department will be good enough to consult the Legation’s despatches Nos. 170 of November 9, 1927 and 171 of November 10, 1927, together with my telegram from Geneva, No. 59 of November 7, 11 p.m.,25 it will have before it a complete outline of the articles to which we took exception and of the failure to have these exceptions accepted by the conference. I merely reiterate what I have before stated, that the Final Act has no binding force, it is not signed by the delegates as Plenipotentiaries of their Government, but is open for signature to any person who attended the Conference. It is a compilation of resolutions adopted by the individuals attending the conference. A signatory state may instruct its delegate to sign the convention and protocol without instructing him to sign the Final Act.

Relative to the convention itself, I append herewith an analysis26 in which the convention, as finally signed, is compared article by article with the original draft text of the convention issued by the Economic Committee. At the same time short notes and comments are appended, together with reference to those telegrams and despatches which deal with the particular subject. In the preparation of this annex I am indebted in a large measure to Dr. Lyon, the Commercial Attaché of this Legation.

Certain observations of a general nature occur to me. The convention, as the Department will note, is of a reciprocal nature and this theory of reciprocity has been emphasized in article 1. The benefits of the abolition of restrictions and prohibitions accrue only to those states which sign the convention. As a corollary to this situation there is nothing to prevent a state signatory to the convention from increasing in any way it sees fit its present categories of prohibitions and restrictions as against a state which is not a signatory to the convention, so long as such action does not unduly affect the trade of another signatory power.

There are certain faults, some obvious and some not so visible in the convention. It is to be regretted that exceptions are permitted of any class or kind. The convention would have been a simpler document and a much more satisfactory document, from our point of view, had the original text of the Economic Committee not only been adhered to but strengthened, especially as to article 5. Also the further meeting which will take place in the early summer of 1928 [Page 285] will be faced with a number of very thorny questions; for example, the decision as to what states must ratify the convention before it enters into effect. It is a pity that this decision had to be deferred to a future date but there seemed no possibility of reaching a solution until the convention was finally drawn up and until a full knowledge was available of all the reservations that would form part of it. Also the permission for states to introduce other reservations up to February 1st which may be discussed at this future conference may bring further difficult questions, although urgent pleas were made in the conference and the hope was expressed that the reservations should rather be reduced than; increased by that time. The long delay which must elapse before the convention can be effective (at the earliest this can hardly take place before the summer of 1929) is also a source of regret. However, this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that a signatory power undertakes not to increase its prohibitions or restrictions during this period.

As opposed to these weaknesses there would appear to be certain advantages which would accrue to the United States if it participated in this treaty. In spite of the many reservations, there will be, if the treaty goes into force, an enormous number of prohibitions and restrictions abolished. The reservations do not appear to be of such a nature that they greatly affect the trade of the United States, whereas many of the restrictions that will be dropped in favor of signatory states do so affect our trade very seriously.

Should the Government of the United States decide that this treaty should be signed I call attention to the fact that it would be well if this decision were taken before the 1st of February 1928, since states signing the treaty after that date may not present reservations under article 6.27 While many of the delegates held that our prohibition of export of helium is adequately covered in article 4, paragraph 2, there were others who took a contrary view. I consider it advisable, therefore, in the event that we do sign, that we should make a definite reservation regarding helium and not be put on the defensive in the future regarding our maintenance of this prohibition.

I am appending herewith certain communications which I have received from the advisers containing their views regarding the convention which was eventually signed.28

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I have [etc.]

Hugh R. Wilson
  1. None printed; for minutes concerning adoption of the final text of the final act of the Conference, see Proceedings of the Conference, p. 140.
  2. Not printed.
  3. The convention was signed on the part of the United States, Jan. 30, 1928; Department of State Treaty Series No. 811.
  4. Communications not printed.