The Ambassador in Belgium (Morris) to the Secretary of State

No. 197

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that during the course of a conversation which I had with Monsieur Paul Hymans, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, on May 24, we discussed the question of the negotiation of a new commercial treaty between the United States and Belgium. Monsieur Hymans told me that he was not sufficiently conversant with the details of this subject to go into a lengthy discussion thereof but that his Ministry would prepare a memorandum outlining in brief Belgian grievances as regards American commercial policy.

On May 30 Baron Beyens, a young official at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, called on me at the direction of Monsieur Hymans and left with me the memorandum, copies of which I am enclosing [Page 73]for the Department’s information. I consider this document of such importance to the Department that I am forwarding copies of it without translation in order that it may go off in the pouch which leaves today.

Baron Beyens informed me that the Ministry felt there was a general need for increased trade between the two countries. I emphasized the harm to American trade and interests in Belgium which necessarily follows the application of import quotas affecting American imports here. I added that I felt there could be little improvement in trade relations between the two countries until Belgium showed a willingness to abolish quota restrictions as protectionist measures against the importation of American goods. Baron Beyens replied with the usual argument that quotas were necessary for the protection of the home market at the present time.

I respectfully suggest to the Department that it study the contents of the enclosed note, along with my despatches:6

  • No. 124 of February 12, 1934
  • No. 141 of March 5, 1934
  • No. 153 of March 21, 1934
  • No. 155 of March 26, 1934.

In this connection, Mr. Sussdorff, Counselor, undoubtedly discussed the situation with the Department earlier this month, and this despatch will supplement his discussions and bring the matter up to date. I am prepared to add any information which the Department may desire when I am in Washington the middle of June. A study of the information obtained from these discussions and from the material referred to above will furnish the Department with a complete picture of the trade situation between the two countries.

I believe the Belgians are sincerely interested in improving these relations and that every encouragement should be offered them to show that sympathetic consideration will be given any concrete offer which will remove restrictions and improve trade relations. I respectfully urge the Department to keep the Embassy informed of the details of any negotiations which may ensue. The situation is daily becoming more complicated by the application of new restrictions. In this connection I refer to my despatch No. 185 of May 17, 1934.7 The Embassy is in close touch with American interests here and therefore it is in a position to be of value to the Department in furnishing up to date information relating to restrictions on American trade.

Respectfully yours,

Dave H. Morris
[Page 74]

The Belgian Ministry for Foreign Affairs to the American Embassy

The Belgian Government fully shares the ideas contained in the message by which President Roosevelt asked of the Congress of the United States the powers necessary for negotiating with foreign countries treaties of commerce covering reciprocal concessions and reciprocal facilities intended to develop commercial interchanges. The Belgian Government is pleased with this step, for it too is convinced that the return to prosperity depends on a lowering of customs barriers and an increase in international trade. Moreover: the message of the President of the United States was not a surprise to it, the statements made on several occasions by the Secretary of State, Mr. Cordell Hull, particularly at the London Monetary and Economic Conference,8a had shown it that the United States Government was aware of the gravity of the situation and the remedies which it was advisable to apply to it.

The Belgian Government has always been an advocate of the simultaneous lowering of customs barriers; it has made great efforts along this line during these last few years, efforts which have not, unfortunately, been crowned with success. Let it suffice to recall the part [taken by Belgium at] the Geneva Commercial Convention of 1930,9 the conclusion, in 1932, of the Convention of Ouchy with the Netherlands and Luxemburg,10 intended to lower customs barriers by successive steps and open to all nations, and lastly the declarations made by Belgium’s representatives at the London Conference, declarations which agreed fully with those of the leader of the American delegation, Mr. Cordell Hull.

This means that the Government of Belgium is entirely disposed to enter into pourparlers with that of the United States of America, with a view to the conclusion of a new treaty of commerce, covering reciprocal concessions.

The Belgian Government wishes to call attention to the fact that [it] is at present, taking the number of its population into account, one of the best customers of the United States. Belgium has pursued up to the present time a liberal economic policy toward the United States; the duties of her customs tariff are, with a few exceptions, extremely [Page 75]moderate; the majority of the raw materials and foodstuffs for which the United States is now seeking markets enter our country free of duty.

On the contrary, the American customs tariff is very high; the majority of Belgian products are heavily taxed. The latest revision of the tariff, in 1930, ended in excluding from the American market some products which formerly found a very important market there (cement, brick). That is not all: aside from the height of the customs duties, Belgian exports suffer from the strictness and the complication of the administrative provisions of the tariff, such as those relative to the marking of articles, those concerning suspicion of “dumping,” the quarantine applied to our horticultural products, etc.

The Belgian Government therefore believes that the present system of reciprocal exchanges is not equitable, and that it should be improved; it is ready to cooperate with the American Government in the measures adapted for their development.

An examination of the commercial balance of the two countries emphasizes, moreover, the lack of balance which now exists in trade between the Belgian-Luxemburgian Economic Union and the United States. The following table, taken from the American customs statistics, shows that this lack of balance has been perceptibly accentuated during the last few years.

Years Exports of the Union to the United States. Imports from America into the Economic Union.
(Dollars) (Dollars)
1929 74,048,000 114,855,000
1930 51,536,000 86,000,000
1931 34,241,000 59,441,000
1932 21,927,000 40,278,000

The figures for 1933 are not yet known, but an examination of the Belgian commercial statistics shows that the lack of balance existing in 1932 has continued.

A brief glance at the above table shows that the value of the exchange of goods has been reduced on both sides, but that the decrease has been proportionately much greater, in the exports from the Economic Union to the United States.

It is this situation that the Belgian Government would like to change, not by rectifying unilaterally the commercial balance to the advantage of Belgium, but by developing simultaneously the exchanges on both sides for the greater advantage of both parties.

The Belgian Government made an investigation among the exporters of the country, with a view to ascertaining what claims it should submit to the United States Government, when the negotiations contemplated [Page 76]in President Roosevelt’s message are undertaken. This investigation is completed and the Belgian Government is now in position to formulate such claims. We shall give a brief outline thereof.

From a tariff point of view, the Government of the King will ask for concessions on certain products for which Belgium is, or has been, the principal source of supply on the United States market, or which do not come into competition with American industry. For example, it will ask for reductions in import duties on cement (which can be sold only on the coasts and which has been excluded from the American market by the duty of 6 cents a pound, imposed in 1930); on articles of crystal and de luxe hollow glass ware; on certain products of the textile industry (tissues of dyed and colored cotton, upholstering tissues, cotton carpets, certain linen tissues: padding and oysters; heavy jute paddings; on certain metallurgical products (galvanized sheet iron and wire netting); lastly on certain Belgian specialties; art laces, Belgian chicory, hot-house grapes.

Moreover, the Belgian Government would ask for the consolidation of certain import duties (droits d’entrée) and customs exemption enjoyed by certain products, such as: fertilizer, creosote oil, et cetera.’

Lastly, with respect to the administrative provisions of the American customs tariff, Belgium would ask for a more liberal application of this legislation, which causes, in numerous cases, considerable prejudice to her export trade. For example, the Belgian Government would request that the luxury tax, collected from the manufacturer (matches, for instance), be not counted in the evaluation of merchandise for the purpose of customs taxation. It would also like to obtain the removal or at least a mitigation of the quarantine imposed on our horticultural products.

The Belgian Government is ready to enter into negotiations with the United States. Its sincere desire is to promote trade, to the fullest possible extent between the two countries for their mutual advantage.

  1. Despatches listed not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Filed separately under 611.5531/31.
  4. For correspondence concerning the Conference, held June 12–July 27, 1933, see Foreign Relations, 1933, vol. i, pp. 452 ff.
  5. See League of Nations document C.203.M.1930.II (Geneva, April 15, 1930).
  6. For text and protocol, see Department of State, Treaty Information, Bulletin No. 37, October 1932, pp. 16–23.