851.6363 Import Law/9

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

No. 8343

Sir: With reference to my telegram No. 48 of February 17,43 concerning proposed French legislation regulating petroleum importation into France, I have the honor to report further as follows.

My despatch No. 8328 of February 14 showed the obnoxious amendments to the Government’s Bill proposed by the Reporter of the Chamber Petroleum Committee. Late in the afternoon of the day on which that despatch was written, this amended Bill came before this Committee, which, in the following two respects, attenuated the said amendments.

[Page 840]
  • First: The figure for the basic importation licenses was changed from the average annual imports during the last five years to the average during the last three years, (i. e. 1925, 1926, 1927).
  • Second: With regard to priority in surplus importation allotments, where the amendment had proposed the first preference to “refineries belonging to corporations controlled by French capital”, it was changed to read “refineries in existence or to be created on French territory”.

The amended Bill as thus presented to the Committee, after undergoing the above and other minor changes, was favorably passed upon by unanimous vote, and at the same time was scheduled to appear upon the agenda of the Chamber on Thursday, February 23.

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey representatives here were naturally very much perturbed over these developments and exceedingly anxious that I do anything possible to help the situation. Their anxiety was all the greater on account of the previous reassuring statements made by M. Briand and M. Bokanowski to Mr. Whitehouse, (reported in the Embassy’s despatches No. 8045 of November 18, and No. 8052 of November 21, 1927, respectively,45) as well as the facts that it was the Government’s own choice for a Reporter to the Chamber Petroleum Committee who had proposed the amendments in question, and that this Committee had emitted an unanimous vote.

In view of the speed with which matters had developed in the last few days and the shortness of time remaining before the Bill was to come before the Chamber, I felt that the most helpful step under the circumstances would be for me to take the matter up unofficially and personally with M. Briand. I was the more led to this as, upon inquiry as to the cause of the attenuation of the amendments hereinabove referred to, the Embassy was informed that this was the result of intervention by the Foreign Office which had pointed out to the Petroleum Committee the trouble which was likely to be caused by the amendments as they originally stood.

Accordingly, accompanied by a member of my staff, I had an interview with M. Briand, the substance of which was reported in my telegram of last night, but the following amplification may be of interest to the Department. According to all appearances, M. Briand was most receptive to all I had to say to him. Referring to his conversation with Mr. Whitehouse last November, I pointed out that the situation had in the last few days apparently become completely altered, and said that I should like briefly to present the point of view of the American interests involved which inevitably were seriously disturbed at the present turn of affairs. M. Briand replied that he was not surprised at my concern. He confirmed the fact that the [Page 841]Foreign Office had indicated to the Chamber Petroleum Committee that the proposed amendments were bound to cause trouble; the result had been that certain of the proposed amendments had been eliminated, but both he and the French Government remained unsatisfied with the Bill as it still stood at the present time. He said that undoubtedly the provisions of the Bill with which he was displeased were the same as those which were causing us uneasiness, and added that he would be delighted to have me state the American point of view. I accordingly did so under the four following heads: (1) The discrimination with respect to surplus allotments against companies the majority of whose capital and directors are not French; (2) The restriction on basic license figures resulting from only taking an average of the past 3 years; (3) The fact that the Standard Oil Company has not had its day in court to reply to the charges levelled against it; (4) That as it stands the Bill appears incompatible with the Geneva Convention and Protocol on the abolition of import and export prohibitions and restrictions.46 I also adverted to the facts that it was the Government’s own choice of a Reporter who had proposed these amendments and that the Petroleum Committee had voted unanimously.

M. Briand replied that he welcomed this exposition of our attitude which would strengthen his hands in future discussions with proponents of the present Bill. He made light of the fact that the Committee had voted unanimously and said that the Reporter had merely had his hand forced by certain zealous members of the Committee, including its Socialist chairman, M. Baron. He then said specifically that I might rest assured that the Government would oppose the Bill in its present shape when it came before the Chamber. The clear implication was—although not equally specifically stated—that the clauses we object to will undergo modification.

The concluding remarks then uttered by M. Briand constituted perhaps the most interesting part of the conversation. He said that after all our respective general policies concerning oil were not likely to conflict; he observed that we see entirely eye to eye with regard to the situation in Spain, and that we would soon be acting together in Syria where he hoped our interests would coincide on the many important matters that would come up there, such, for instance, as the construction of a pipe line by the most direct route. To this I naturally made no reply.

The Department’s telegraphic instruction No. 50, February 17, 7 P.M.,47 on the above subject, has just been received. My telegram [Page 842]under reference, which crossed it, furnishes, I believe, a complete reply. For my information, I should appreciate it if the Department would clip and send to me the press despatches from Paris referred to in its instruction.

I have [etc.]

Myron T. Herrick
  1. Not printed.
  2. Neither printed.
  3. Vol. i, p. 336.
  4. Not printed.