The Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Tangier (Blake) to the Secretary of State 16

No. 869

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that in the early part of July, 1933, the authorities in the Spanish Zone of Morocco abruptly held up the clearance of all consignments of flour lying at the Customs Houses of Tetuan and Larache, and prohibited the entry into the Spanish Zone of flour proceeding from or transitory through either the French or Tangier Zones.

As a result of these measures, quantities of flour have been detained and are still at this date uncleared in the Customs stores or in railroad wagons at the ports referred to. The goods, in this hot season, are exposed to deterioration with probably serious prejudice to the interests of importers and holders of flour who supply the market of the Spanish Zone.

Among these, two American protégés, Jacob S. Cohen of Tangier, and Jacob J. Bentolila of Tetuan, have brought the matter to my attention and requested my intervention to obtain the removal of these obstacles to their legitimate trading activities.

In the absence of official relations between this Legation and the Spanish High Commissioner at Tetuan, pending the recognition by the United States Government of the Spanish position in Morocco, my only avenue of approach is through my colleague, the Consul General of Spain in Tangier.

I enclose copies of the communications exchanged between the latter and myself on this subject, and I respectfully suggest that the Department may deem it opportune also to take up the matter with the Spanish Government through the American Embassy at Madrid.

The two American ressortissants above named are the “Semsars”17 of important New York shippers of flour to Spanish Morocco. Their purchases of American flour have been rendered impossible by the bonuses granted by the French Government on flour exported from France which are referred to in my No. 812 of February 10, 1933.18

It seems difficult to suppose that this policy of the French Government can be indefinitely maintained. A press telegram appeared in the [Page 977] Petit Marocain of to-day, dated Paris, August 4, 1933, is perhaps indicative of some hopes in this direction. The telegram reads in translation as follows:—

“A truly extraordinary situation was denounced yesterday by M. Lebecq, Municipal Counselor, in a written Memorandum addressed to the Prefect of the Seine. M. Lebecq is struck by the fact that in the last few days 140,000 or 150,000 quintals of French wheat were exported abroad at the price of 41 francs c.i.f. Rotterdam, 45 francs c.i.f. London, and 45 francs delivered to the Swiss Frontier. These prices, he observes, are possible only thanks to a bonus of 80 francs granted by the State to exporters, at the expense of the French tax payer. The foreign consumers—English, German, Dutch or Swiss—pay therefore for their bread at a cheap price, while the French miller continues to pay for wheat on the basis of 119 francs per quintal.

That assistance should be given to French cultivators by the payment of high prices for their products, observes Mr. Lebecq, is all very well. But that the tax payers should be made to pay in order that bread may be cheap everywhere except in France, is an insult to common sense.

Mr. Lebecq requests the Prefect of the Seine to intervene with the Government in order that this anomalous situation may be brought to an end.”

The conditions referred to in the above press report are identical with those which militate against the normal entrance of American flour into North Morocco.

Should the export bonuses on flour shipped from France eventually disappear, American shippers may again find themselves in a position to regain the important participation in the flour trade of the Spanish Zone of Morocco which they have enjoyed in this market for over half a century. It would then be extremely regrettable to find their efforts in this direction blocked by arbitrary measures on the part of the Spanish authorities.

A brief outline of certain developments in the economic antagonism between the French and Spanish Zones of Morocco will indicate the grounds upon which such a contingency is to be apprehended.

About a year ago, the French Protectorate authorities closed their frontier along the Spanish zone to the introduction of any agricultural product unless provided with a phytopathological certificate issued by the protectorate authorities. This measure was obviously tantamount to entire interdiction since the phytopathological laboratory of the French Protectorate was established at Casablanca, that is to say, some 140 miles from Arbaoua, the transit point, both on the main highway and on the railroad, between the Spanish and French Zones. The phytopathological formalities in the French Protectorate are obviously a politico-economic ruse rather than a prophylactic necessity.

The authorities, and the representatives of the commercial interests [Page 978] of both the Spanish and Tangier Zones, laid their grievances before the French Protectorate authorities and solicited the establishment at Arbaoua of a phytopathological station to deal with their consignments to the French Zone. Their repeated representations have however been met by the French authorities with nothing but evasive promises.

It is to be noted that the closure of the French Protectorate land frontiers in this manner was directed particularly against Spanish vegetable and fruit products, since Algerian products entering Morocco over the Eastern frontier were afforded the facilities of phytopathological examination at Oudjda.

The Spanish High Commissioner at Tetuan has retaliated by closing the frontier of the Spanish Zone to agricultural products and their derivatives proceeding from the French and Tangier Zones, and has set up a phytopathological station at Tetuan, which is equally sufficiently removed from the frontier to suit political convenience.

The Spanish authorities have been further provoked by the action of the French Protectorate Government in regard to the treatment of flour exported to the French Zone from millers located in the Spanish Zone. It will be recalled that the illicit Dahir of June 4, 1929, closing the French Zone to imported foreign wheat and flour, did not purport to affect wheat grown, or flour made from wheat grown, in the Tangier and Spanish Zones. These conditions led to an active “contraband” trade in flour from the Spanish to the French Zone, which became a subject of recrimination between the authorities of the two Zones, and resulted ultimately in an agreement between them by which a fixed quota of flour was allowed to be imported into the French Zone from the Spanish Zone millers.

Under this quota, a miller in Melilla shipped a quantity of flour to Casablanca, but in spite of repeated representations on the part of the Spanish authorities, the consignment was held up for several months in the Casablanca Customs House, was finally refused admission, and ordered to be shipped back to the port of origin.

The quota for Spanish flour for the French Zone was simultaneously suppressed.

It seems to be obvious that these manoeuvres of the French authorities are designed to coerce the Spanish Zone authorities into closing their ports to imported wheat and flour, and to oblige them to enter into a combination with the milling industry of the French Zone to operate a virtual monopoly for the supply of flour within Moroccan territory.

From well-informed circles I learn that the French proposal in this regard is understood to offer the Spanish Zone a monetary subsidy to compensate for the diminution of revenue which, under the scheme above outlined, would arise from the loss of duties on importations of foreign wheat and flour into the Spanish Zone.

[Page 979]

In their present mood, the Spanish authorities are resisting these overtures, and the Spanish High Commissioner admitted to a delegation of Tetuan flour dealers that his action, in holding up the flour consignments from France at the Tetuan and Larache Customs Houses, was taken in reprisal for the vexatious attitude of the French Protectorate. He intimated that this action would be persisted in, and that his future flour policy would be intended to favor colonist and industrial interests established in the Spanish Zone.

He further stated to the delegation that they might expect no facilities in the future in regard to their importation of flour into Spanish Morocco.

It is obvious, therefore, that the flour market of the Spanish Zone is in danger of being closed to American shippers, as a result either of eventual collusion between the French and the Spanish Protectorates, or of the establishment of a separate régime arbitrarily governing the flour trade in Spanish Morocco. In either case, the freedom of trade as provided for by the Moroccan treaties will be violated, and American interests will be prejudiced.

Some orders for American flour have been placed in New York and are now probably en route for Spanish Morocco, either direct, or via Tangier, and it is feared therefore that further incidents will occur.

Since the conduct of the Spanish authorities in this connection is still in a state of fluctuation, and there has been no official declaration as to a defined policy regarding the flour market in Spanish Morocco, the Department will probably consider that the Embassy at Madrid should concentrate upon an endeavor to secure the immediate release of the flour consignments of the American ressortissants, Jacob S. Cohen and Jacob J. Bentolila, which are held up respectively at Larache and at Tetuan. It is unnecessary to mention that, although the flour in question is of French origin, the goods are the property of the American protégés and therefore constitute, within the meaning of the treaties, an American interest which is the proper object of our intervention.

Full reservations should be made as to eventual claims for indemnity arising from damage to the flour as the result of undue and prolonged detention.

Incidental insistence upon the right of these American protégés to carry on their flour business without obstruction, will probably be sufficient indication, at this state of affairs, of the Department’s opposition to any such high-handed and flagrant violation of commercial freedom in Morocco as is apparently contemplated by the Spanish authorities in regard to the trade in wheat and flour.

The Department’s instructions will be awaited with great interest.

Respectfully yours,

Maxwell Blake
[Page 980]

The American Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Tangier (Blake) to the Spanish Consul General at Tangier (Montero) 19

Mr. Consul General and Dear Colleague: I have the honor to bring to your attention a difficulty which has arisen in connection with the flour trade in the Spanish Zone of Morocco of the American ressortissant, Jacob J. Cohen, of Tangier, and to request your kind intervention with the Spanish authorities at Tetuan for a removal of the difficulty.

Mr. Cohen shipped, by the steamer Gibel Dersa, to Larache, on the 9th instant, 2,000 bags of French flour, and according to a notarial statement drawn up by Ildefonso Hernandez, Consular Agent of Spain in Larache, on July 17, 1933, the Customs authorities at Larache have refused to allow entry of the flour, at Laraches. The reason stated is that by order of the High Commissioner and for the purposes of application of the Dahir of September 1, 1932, instituting the phytopathological service of the Spanish Zone, flour, as a derivation of a vegetal product, will in future be allowed entrance only through Customs Houses qualified for this purpose by a Vizirial Decree of April 29, 1933, which omitted any mention of the port of Larache in this connection.

The American ressortissant also informs me that his normal sales of flour from Tangier into the Spanish Zone, over the land frontier, average 200 bags per day, and that these goods are sent into the Spanish Zone from his stock in Tangier, which at this date amounts to 10,000 bags. This trade has also been suspended by the action above referred to, of the authorities in the Spanish Zone. With this suppression of the normal outlet of Mr. Cohen’s trade, his stock of flour is in danger of deteriorating and of giving rise to a very serious pecuniary loss.

In view of the obvious violation of American treaty rights in the premises, I have no option but to take the firmest position for the protection of the interests involved, and I therefore must urge that, through your courteous intervention, the Spanish authorities in Morocco be brought to remove the obstacles to Mr. Cohen’s flour trade without delay in order to avoid or to minimize an otherwise certain material loss of considerable magnitude, the responsibility for which will clearly incumb upon the authorities referred to.

Jacob J. Bentolila, an American protégé in Tetuan, informs me, by communication dated July 18, 1933, that twelve days have elapsed since samples were taken from a shipment of flour made to him for Tetuan, [Page 981] and that as yet no action has been taken by the Tetuan Customs authorities to allow clearance of the flour. In the meantime, this perishable merchandise is suffering deterioration, while cost of storage, and rent of railroad trucks, is accumulating which cannot be properly or legally placed to the charge of the importer. In this case, also, as indeed with all other similar cases, there is no alternative but to hold the authorities responsible for the material prejudice suffered by American nationals and protégés, as a result of the obstacles herein discussed which have been raised against their legitimate trade in the Spanish Zone.

Please accept [etc.]

Maxwell Blake
  1. Mr. Blake departed from Tangier on leave before this despatch was ready for signature, but he verbally approved it for transmittal to the Department by the Chargé at Tangier.
  2. Brokers or factors.
  3. Not printed.
  4. The Spanish Consul General on July 28 acknowledged receipt of this note and stated that it had been transmitted to the Spanish authorities in Morocco.