681.003/78: Telegram

The Ambassador in Great Britain (Bingham) to the Secretary of State

597. Reference Department’s telegram No. 407, November 14, 6 p.m., regarding possible modification of the customs union in French Morocco. The sense of that telegram was conveyed orally to the Foreign Office which informed the Embassy as follows:

The French had made no inquiries of the British since those reported in my despatch 897 of August 17th last.
The Foreign Office reiterated its belief that the British feel adequately protected under their treaty of 1856 with the Sultan32 which, though it does not mention quotas, is very specific on the raising of tariffs; but regard the protection afforded by the preamble of the Act of Algeciras as nebulous (see last paragraph of my despatch under reference). The Foreign Office added, as an example, that the Act would probably not be interpreted as a definite obligation on the part of France to maintain the open door should the case be referred to The Hague Court.
The British are still awaiting concrete proposals on quotas and increased tariffs, which they understand would be only on a small list of, and aimed primarily at curtailing Japanese trade in, certain commodities. The Foreign Office thought that this was a principal, immediate, actuating motive, but the list of articles would doubtless also include articles with a view to favoring French trade. Until the proposals are made, the Foreign Office thought it was impossible to [Page 862] form an opinion as to whether the French were endeavoring to go as far as closing the open door, though it realized they would of course like to do so if they could.
Should French proposals for quotas and increased tariffs prove satisfactory, the British would be prepared to agree to them on the explicit stipulation that British treaty rights were in no way altered. The Foreign Office pointed out that, just as the original 10 per cent tariff was raised to 12½ per cent by agreement, further alterations might be made without impairing treaty rights.
The Foreign Office believed that the French were going to do something and that it would be difficult to stop them altogether. It felt therefore that, provided the French demands were not excessive, it might even be advantageous to all interested powers to make some concessions in this relation, provided such concessions were coupled with a reassertion of the general principle of equal opportunity, as most of the treaties were very old and conditions had greatly changed since they were negotiated and, as stated above, in the case of the Act of Algeciras this principle was not clearly asserted. The Foreign Office assumed, of course, that all powers would seek a quid pro quo and the results would depend on their success in bargaining.
The Foreign Office had recently been approached by the Italians and the Dutch, who were informed in the foregoing sense. The Italians had been consulted by the French and the Foreign Office here thought they were not unfavorably disposed toward discussing the question. The Foreign Office believed the Dutch and Swedish Governments had not been consulted by the French but assumed the Belgians and Spanish had.
The Foreign Office said it was not aware that the French are seeking to establish a system of close bilateral balancing of trade, and until the French made specific proposals it would be impossible to form an opinion on this point.
The Foreign Office said the question of the renunciation of capitulations by the British had not been raised and it was not even considering the question in this connection.
The Foreign Office said it would be grateful if it might be kept informed of any conversations in this relation between the American and French Governments.
The Embassy obtained the impression that the French argument concerning curtailment of Japanese trade, mentioned in paragraph 3 above, had been largely accepted by the Foreign Office as genuine and with sympathy.

  1. British and Foreign State Papers, vol. xlvi, p. 188.