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

No. 186

Sir: In view of the somewhat complicated nature of the developments described in my telegram No. 367 of August 12, 1 p.m., 1933,9 and reported as satisfactorily adjusted in my telegram No. 372 of August 17, 1 p.m.,9 I now have the honor to report thereon in further detail for the Department’s more complete understanding of the situation.

By a law of August 6, 1933, published in the Journal Officiel of August 8 (a copy of which is enclosed),10 the customs duties on oilseeds and fruits embraced under tariff heading No. 88 were largely augmented. The law also provided for the modification by the pertinent Ministries of the duties on certain other specified tariff items, the increases to follow the ratio established for item No. 88. Pending application of the new rates on the articles other than those of No. 88, a temporary import quota was authorized as regards such items as are consolidated by agreement with other Governments. The alleged purpose of the tariff augmentation is to foster imports from the French colonies.

The same number of the Journal Officiel carried a decree of the Ministry of Colonies, dated August 7 (see Enclosure No. 2), establishing the new maximum and minimum rates on the majority of the categories of the merchandise not included under heading No. 88. It was, however, specified in Article 2 of the decree that the new tariff on certain items listed therein, which are the object of consolidation with other countries, would not go into effect until further notice—presumably until negotiations with the countries concerned had been completed.

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A few days subsequent, on August 11, the Bulletin Douanier (See Enclosure No. 3) reprinted the revised maximum and minimum tariffs and in so doing in numerous instances indicated that the United States would receive the general tariff, although, as a matter of fact, previous to the law of August 6 the United States had benefited by the minimum or intermediary rates. As the Department is aware, this inequity was promptly drawn to the attention of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs by the Embassy.

An attempt was made to correct the situation so far as concerns American products by the publication of a “rectification” in the Journal Officiel of August 15. Since, however, errors were made in redrafting the American rates, the Journal Officiel of August 17 carried a further “rectification” annulling the first one and reestablishing the treatment to which the United States is entitled under the provisions of the modus vivendi. The pertinent excerpts from the Journal Officiel of August 15 and 17 are appended hereto (enclosures No. 4 and No. 5). Only the latter excerpt need be taken into consideration.

As may be observed from this last enclosure, in those instances where the new minimum tariff is higher than the old American intermediary rate, the new minimum rate is applied, and in the instances where the old American intermediary rate is higher than the new minimum rate, the old American intermediary rate remains unchanged. Where the United States previously benefited by the minimum duty, it continues to benefit by the new minimum tariff.

From a conversation held between the Commercial Attaché and an officer of the Ministry of Commerce, it would not appear that any effort to discriminate against the United States was intended in the initial assignment to it of the general tariff rates on certain imports. It was explained that when tariff changes are made, the customs authorities have no other recourse than to apply the general tariff until they receive instructions directing them as to the rates which are properly applicable under the modus vivendi. This observation is worthy of note since analogous situations may arise in the future. The Commercial Attaché will obtain from the customs authorities either a confirmation of this statement or a further explanation of the reasons for the temporary application of the general tariff to products imported from the United States that previously enjoyed either the minimum or intermediary rates.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Robert M. Scotten

First Secretary of Embassy
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. None of the enclosures to this despatch are reprinted.