Memorandum by Mr. Ellis O. Briggs of the Division of Western European Affairs
Spanish Trade Complaints—Embargo on Almeria Grapes
Although this subject was discussed at considerable length at the time of the general trade complaint hearings in March 1932, at the urgent request of the Spanish Embassy a further meeting was held today. The following attended: Department of Agriculture, Mr. Sasscer; Department of State, Dr. Wallace and Mr. Briggs; Spanish Embassy, Señor Irujo, Counselor, and Señor Echegaray, Agricultural Attaché.
The Spaniards stated that they desired to make the following proposal, based on the claim that there exist in the Province of Almeria certain areas which are entirely free from the Mediterranean fruit fly, that such areas could be segregated, and that only grapes from these areas would be shipped to the United States.
The United States should accept for shipment via New York grapes from such free areas for consumption “north of the Mason-Dixon Line”, and under restriction (to be established by the Department of Agriculture) that they should not be shipped south of this Line.
In discussing this request the Agricultural Attaché offered on the part of Spain to put into effect in the grape growing region a system similar to that used in Florida several years ago during the campaign to eradicate the fruit fly, whereby, whenever a fruit fly was discovered, all fruit within a radius of one mile should be ruled out for commercial purposes, with a further quarantined radius of several miles outside the first one to insure proper protection. (See attached diagram23). Only grapes from free areas (that is, areas lying outside of the radii above mentioned) would be eligible for shipment, under strict inspection, to the United States. In other words the Spaniards would assert that only clean grapes would be packed for American trade. It was further stated that the grapes would be packed in the growing area in tight containers, so that there would be no danger of infestation of the clean packed grapes while in transit or during shipment. (In this connection Mr. Sasscer said that he believed that there was in fact very small danger that picked, packed grapes could be infected during such transit.)[Page 551]
The Agricultural Attaché pointed out that Spanish grapes used to be received in the United States only between December 1 and January 15,—that is, at a time when the Mediterranean fruit fly could not propagate in our northern states because of the cold. He added that about ninety per cent of Spanish grapes were in the past consumed in the area north of the Mason-Dixon Line between Boston, New York and Chicago. He alleged therefore that there would be no danger of the transportation of Spanish grapes to any point in the United States sufficiently far south so that, even assuming that such grapes were infected, the flies therein could propagate.
In connection with this last statement Mr. Sasscer said that the whole purpose of fruit inspection was to release into general domestic American commerce only uninfected fruit and that it would not be in any way practicable to release Spanish grapes under a restriction that they should not be moved beyond a certain point. He added that quite naturally the Department of Agriculture was not looking for opportunities to establish new restrictions and quarantines, but endeavoring to keep out any and all fruit which might be contaminated.
In connection with their foregoing request, the Spaniards also suggested that the Department of Agriculture specify any particular type of packing which it desired, either from the point of view of safety from infection during transit in Spain and embarkation therefrom, or facility in inspection after arrival at New York.
There was some conversation at this point on the subject of whether or not there are varieties of table grapes in Almeria which are not subject to infestation by the fruit fly. The Agricultural Attaché offered for examination a sheet covered with pictures of grapes accompanied by their respective scientific names. Mr. Sasscer appeared to doubt whether it had been scientifically demonstrated that any particular variety of grape was immune to the fruit fly, but he took down the various names and said he would endeavor to look the matter up in cooperation with other officials of the Department of Agriculture.
The question of sterilization was then discussed, with Mr. Sasscer subsequently outlining the American experiments at present being conducted through various chilling methods. The Spaniards made the point that their investigations indicated that for packed grapes (in boxes or small barrels) fourteen days at 28 degrees Fahrenheit would absolutely destroy any living fruit flies, eggs, et cetera. The Agricultural Attaché suggested that Spanish grapes (even though, in Spain’s view, uninfected) be placed in cold storage under Department of Agriculture’s supervision upon arrival at New York and prior to being released to commerce. He added that he understood [Page 552] that domestic oranges from Texas were so treated upon arrival at New York. Mr. Sasscer said that he was not particularly familiar with domestic quarantines but that he did not believe that any foreign quarantines during a cold storage period had yet been adopted.
The Spanish representatives then brought up their old contention that the United States discriminates against Spain for the reason that we embargo Spanish grapes because of the existence of the fruit fly in Spain, whereas we permit the entry of Argentine grapes from noninfested areas in Argentina although the fruit fly exists in other Argentine areas. Mr. Sasscer produced his regulations and the various supplements thereto and made a very earnest effort to persuade the Spaniards that they were wrong when they claimed that by permitting the entry of Argentine grapes we broke our own regulations. The argument became rather heated and I must say that I was unable clearly to follow Mr. Sasscer’s reasoning even though I was considerably more familiar with the intricacies of the English language than were either of the Spaniards present. Furthermore, whether the Department of Agriculture is “technically correct” or not in claiming that the entry of Argentine grapes is not in conformity with, instead of achieved through a warping of, our regulations, these seem to me to be so obscurely expressed and so filled with references, cross-references, and subreferences, that it is a wonderful and astonishing thing that any country can successfully surmount them and export its fruit to the United States.
In this connection I have been endeavoring for the last three months to induce the officials of the Plant Quarantine Administration to believe that it would be desirable to make such modifications in their regulations as would cover and refute the claim of “technical discrimination” which the Spaniards have so vigorously expounded. I have not altogether given it up yet, although since some legal expert of the Department of Agriculture has given the disputed point in the fruit quarantine regulations his official blessing, the difficulties inherent in coaxing the Department of Agriculture to publish regulations understandable by the American layman or the foreigner with perhaps a nontechnical knowledge of the English language, would seem to have been multiplied.
At the conclusion of the meeting I made an effort to mollify the two representatives of the Spanish Embassy by saying that I hoped and assumed that they realized that, irrespective of the merits of the regulations as documents, in admitting certain Argentine grapes we did so not because we desired to show any favoritism to Argentina, but because our experience to date indicated that these could [Page 553] be imported with safety, and that similarly, in refusing to permit the importation of Spanish grapes, our only objective was the proper protection of the United States from infestation.
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