884.512 Consumption/29

The Minister in Ethiopia (Southard) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 776

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the intention of the British, French and Italian Legations in Addis Ababa to protest to the Ethiopian Government against the recently promulgated excise tax law as a violation of the Franco-Ethiopian (Klobukowsky) Treaty of January 10th, 1908. Various reports have been made to the Department on this general subject.

My three colleagues have now decided upon the form of a note to be addressed to the Ethiopian Government by the Diplomatic Corps as a body if agreement to that end can be procured. If agreement is not possible the three propose to send the note over their own signatures.

Various meetings of the Diplomatic Corps have occurred and my German and Belgian colleagues have reluctantly agreed to adhere to the note. My five colleagues have urged upon me to join and I have informed them that my instructions are (Department’s telegram No. 8 of May 7th, 1931) not to protest the excise tax law. However, as a result of their urging, and as a usual courtesy to their wishes, I am sending herewith a copy of the proposed note of protest19 with a request for either a confirmation of my original instructions or for such amended instructions as the Department may desire to give. The note has, for purposes of greater accuracy, been left in the French as originally drafted.

I may say that my British, French and Italian colleagues are the most active in this movement. The German and Belgian representatives are not enthusiastic, but appear to have instructions permitting them in their discretion to join in a protest should the majority of the Corps be in favor. These two have been now persuaded at least temporarily to adhere to the note, although I am of the opinion that the Belgian at least will withdraw unless I am authorized to join in the protest.

In a previous report the Legation indicated that the British, French and Italian Ministers proposed to procure authorization from their respective governments to threaten reprisals in the event of a rebuff from the Ethiopians in response to the protest. My British colleague says that his Government has declined to promise such authorization. My Italian and French colleagues say that their respective Governments have reserved decision until developments require it to be made.

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The attached project of note includes reference to the Anglo-Ethiopian Gambella Agreement21 which was forwarded, with comment, in the Legation’s No. 775 of July 29th, 1931.22

In my opinion there exists no particularly sound reason for a change in my original instructions not to protest the excise tax law as a violation of the Klobukowsky Treaty. I fear such protest may cause the Ethiopians again, and perhaps definitely, to consider denouncing the Klobukowsky Treaty which would result seriously in taking away the judicial privileges which we now have under Article Seven of the Treaty. I have been unable to find in Ethiopian official circles any inclination to consider more liberal or better defined privileges than are at present permitted by Article Seven. On the contrary I find an inclination to consider either greatly restricting or abolishing the privileges should Article Seven be brought to an issue by the Diplomatic Corps.

The excise tax law does seem a violation of the Anglo-Ethiopian Gambella Agreement and we might adhere to a protest on that basis alone. Whether or not the excise tax law is a violation of the Klobukowsky Treaty, and that seems debatable at least, we have nothing definite to gain by joining in the proposed protest and there is much that we might lose particularly in connection with the above mentioned Article Seven.

I would greatly appreciate it if the Department would upon receipt of this despatch telegraph me, either confirming my original instructions not to protest or indicating such amended instructions as may seem to it desirable. My colleagues have asked me to bring this proposed note before the Department by telegraph but the considerable expense does not under prevailing circumstances seem justified. I am, therefore, sending it by mail with a request for telegraphic reply which I assume can be brief.

Respectfully yours,

Addison E. Southard
  1. Not printed.
  2. Regarding the custom duties to be collected by the customhouses between the Government of Ethiopia and the Sudan, signed at Addis Ababa, March 3, 1928 (884.512 Consumption /27).
  3. Not printed.