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

No. 993

Sir: I have the honor to transmit to the Department herewith a report of my conversations with Mr. Ponsot, the Resident General of France in Morocco, on the subject of changes which the French Government is desirous of bringing to the régime as at present established in Morocco under the treaties with the Shereefian Empire.

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As had been previously arranged, my interview with Mr. Ponsot was fixed for Saturday, November 17, at Rabat.…

I then entered upon the subject matter proper of our interview and Mr. Ponsot listened, without interrupting, to my statement which was in substance as follows:—

My Government has authorized me to accept Your Excellency’s invitation for an interview at Rabat, in response to which I am happy to find myself with Your Excellency to-day.

I am instructed to make it clear to Your Excellency however that out conversations are entirely informal and take place at Your Excellency’s request.

Recently the French Ambassador made informal oral inquiries concerning the attitude of my Government towards a possible revision of the economic régime in Morocco and also touched upon other matters connected with our position in the Shereefian Empire under the treaties.

He was informed by the Department of State that in its opinion the questions presented by Mr. Ponsot on behalf of the Franco-Shereefian authorities have many angles touching our rights under the treaties established with Morocco, and also in association with other Powers signatory both to the Convention of Madrid and to the act of Algeciras.

In the circumstances therefore the Government of the United States is not prepared to make any answer, or even to discuss the matter, except informally, and certainly without commitments, until such time as the entire question raised has been very carefully explored for the purpose of ascertaining whether the Franco-Shereefian authorities are prepared to set forth and to offer substantial and permanent guarantees protecting our economic position in Morocco, and what is the precise nature of the quid pro quo which the Protectorate Government desires to offer for the surrender of our capitulatory rights. It would not [Page 864] seem conceivable, within the terms of the Moroccan treaties, that a quid pro quo could consist in the offer to the United States of any advantages in Morocco where all Powers can claim equality of treatment under the treaties.

I would be pleased also to ascertain from Mr. Ponsot the nature of his observations regarding the long series of violations of our treaty rights by the Protectorate authorities extending over a very long period of years which has followed the recognition of the French Protectorate by the United States, such for instance as the wheat Dahir and numerous other Dahirs, a list of which can be presented to His Excellency at any time upon request.

Also I would desire to inquire how Mr. Ponsot can reconcile the proposed Customs modifications which involve a system of quotas and licenses, for different countries with the principle of equal opportunity for all as provided for by the Act of Algeciras.

From the point of view of my Government it would seem that the Franco-Shereefian authorities are asking us in fact to give up the principle of the open door in favor of a system of contingents and are seeking at the same time to bring about a close bilateral balancing of trade between Morocco and the United States.

I may state for Your Excellency’s information that both these principles are diametrically opposed to the theories on which the Secretary of State is basing his commercial program.

The quota system is inherently discriminatory and the setting up of such a system in Morocco could not but inevitably constitute a violation of the principle of commercial liberty and equality as guaranteed in the treaties.

It seems very clear therefore that the régime which is now being suggested is in no way an improvement on the present state of affairs, but constitutes in fact an actual retrogression, and this without any guarantees for the future.

I believe that my Government might be prepared to envisage a reasonable increase in the Customs rates, for the purposes of revenue, on the understanding that the rates were to be uniform in character, void of discrimination, and that they were agreed to by the Powers signatory to the Act of Algeciras.

Reverting to Mr. Ponsot’s Note to me in which he raised the inquiry as to our attitude in reference to the alleged express tariff clause enjoyed by Great Britain, Spain and France in Morocco, my Government sees nothing to be gained by embarking upon a discussion of the various treaties and conventions of our commercial rights in Morocco, at this time.

I am therefore not authorized to discuss this question. Since however Mr. Coursier pressed me to indicate my own personal view of [Page 865] the position, which has no doubt been made known to Your Excellency by him, I can but reiterate my opinion as expressed to him, in the following sense:—

The proposals put forward in the French Note enclosed in the communication addressed to me by Mr. Ponsot, from Paris, under date of August 6th, 1934, are entirely unacceptable as a basis of discussion.

It would seem difficult to give consideration to any proposition which presupposes the theory that the rights of the United States in Morocco under the treaties have been impaired in any degree, by subsequent developments, or as the result of any subsequent arrangements to which the United States was not a party or to which it has not formally adhered.

How could the American Government therefore accept the contention that the French, or the Protectorate Government, is in a position to deny the United States full enjoyment of any of its existing treaty rights in Morocco, or to subject the retention of some of these rights to the surrender of others? Such surrender can result only from voluntary action on the part of the United States, under conditions which it might deem to be acceptable.

It is undeniable that the Moroccan treaties define the economic, commercial and Customs régimes which govern the rights and interests in the Shereefian Empire of every cosignatory of the Act of Algeciras, including the United States and France, and no modification of those régimes can become operative as regards the United States, without its assent.

This review of the situation will, I believe, clearly set forth to Mr. Ponsot the general information which he is seeking through my intermediary. On my side in turn, as I have come to Rabat at the solicitation of Mr. Ponsot, I naturally am desirous of receiving the fullest information which he can give me for the use of my Government with respect to the eventual plans of his Moroccan administration.

In pursuance of supplementary instructions contained in the Department’s No. 12 of November 16th, 6 p.m., which was telephoned from Tangier to me at Rabat, I also made it clear to Mr. Ponsot in the course of my conversation with him, that any eventual assent that the Department might consider giving to an increase in Customs duties, will be contingent upon a cessation of the abusive practices of the Moroccan Customs Administration with regard to the assessment of duties on imported American goods. I also availed myself of the opportunity to reiterate and to re-emphasize these conditions to Mr. Ponsot in a Note which I addressed to him the following day from Tangier, calling upon him for redress in regard to similar fresh abuses that had recently occurred, and had just been reported to me by the American Consul in Casablanca, with whom during my sojourn in Rabat and Casablanca I held several interesting conferences.

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Mr. Ponsot seemed deeply absorbed by the observations I had made, but expressed regret that he was unable to give an answer, off hand, to the various points which I had touched upon. He said, however, he would give them his careful consideration and would endeavor to supply me with all the information I had sought, as soon as it was possible for him to do so.

At this juncture I asked him if he would explain,—even though I might not have the power to carry my own convictions to the extent of his expectations—just what was in fact the nature of his program, which it seemed difficult for me to define out of all the conflicting information concerning it, which had so far been available to me. I added that I would like for him to indicate also what were the precise methods of approach he had adopted vis-à-vis the Powers in his endeavor to reach a solution of his problem. “Mr. Ponsot responded by stating substantially as follows:—

The Act of Algeciras confirmed all the previous treaties in so far as they were not in conflict with the provisions of the Act itself; in such case the terms of the latter prevailed.

There was nothing in the French, Spanish or British Treaties regarding the tariff régime which was contrary to the Act of Algeciras and consequently France was bound by the clauses of those Treaties.

In 1904 however the “Entente Cordiale” between France and Great Britain, with respect to Morocco and Egypt, provided, inter alia, that there would be no changes in the customs régime in those countries for a period of 30 years.33

Now that this stipulated period has elapsed, France felt herself free to take up with Great Britain and the other Powers having tariff clauses in their treaties, the question of a general revision of the customs duties.

It was Mr. Ponsot’s contention that, if an agreement could be reached with those powers, none of the other signatories of the Act of Algeciras could object, so long as any tariff arrangements made between France, Great Britain and Spain in this connection were applied to them on a basis of equality.

Thus, in the negotiations which he had carried out, he felt it legitimate to approach the Powers separately since the interests of all were not identical.

When the proposition was presented to Italy, the Italians raised objections, and the French replied to the effect that regardless of the Italian point of view, the French maintained their own position, and if Italy had been consulted, it had been merely on the grounds of courtesy.

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A similar reply, in Mr. Ponsot’s opinion, would be warranted to all other signatories of the Act of Algeciras, except Great Britain. He was omitting mention of Spain, he said, in this connection since Spain was a party in interests with France, and in pursuit of the same objectives.

I then remarked that, from what Mr. Ponsot had said, it might be inferred that the key to the whole Moroccan problem, in so far as he envisaged it with respect to customs clauses, lies in the hands of Great Britain, and he affirmed that such was his view.

I then asked him if it were true, as Mr. Coursier had informed me, that Great Britain had accepted the quota system for Morocco, and much to my astonishment, Mr. Ponsot replied that there had been no definite understanding reached on the subject as yet. He volunteered the information however that it was Great Britain herself that had originally suggested a Moroccan quota régime. He went on to explain that formerly the British were stoutly opposed to the quota system, but that domestic conditions in England had brought about the adoption of the system there and Mr. Ponsot had taken full advantage of these changed circumstances, in the present negotiations.

The reason, he said, why the British desired to see a quota system established in Morocco was because they wished to retrieve their cotton goods trade, now lost to Japan, and that contingents provided the only means by which their object could be attained; a mere all round increase in tariff rates obviously being ineffectual in the circumstances.

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I then asked Mr. Ponsot if it was indeed the intention of the Protectorate Government to enforce a revised customs régime as from January 1, 1935, but I was assured by his reply that there was no intention to do this until the scheme had been worked out and approved in the proper quarters.

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I then asked Mr. Ponsot if he could explain to me what quid pro quo he had to offer for the surrender of our capitulatory régime, and I inferred from what he said that there was no form of quid pro quo which could be given in Morocco because of the equality treatment clause in the treaties, but he made no suggestion of a quid pro quo in any other direction.

I had already been with Mr. Ponsot for some two hours, and as I gathered the impression that the subject matter of our interview could not be further pursued in useful directions, I arose to take my departure.

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Respectfully yours,

Maxwell Blake
  1. British and Foreign State Papers, vol. xcvn, p. 39; vol. ci, p. 1053.