The Consul at Casablanca (Hopper) to the Secretary of State

No. 39

Sir: I have the honor to refer to despatches Nos. 1036 and 1038, dated March 22 and 25, 1935, respectively, from the Diplomatic Agency at Tangier,61 relative to conferences between M. Coursier and the two leading trade organizations of Morocco, namely, the French Chamber [Page 975] of Commerce, and the Federation of Corporations, which were held shortly after the return of M. Coursier from the Imperial Conference at Paris. In addition to these two conferences, M. Coursier also held a short interview with the Native Chamber of Commerce, but limited his remarks to assurances that no higher duties would be imposed on imports for native consumption, and that there would be no increase in prices or cost of living. He did not attempt to explain how the proposed changes in the customs régime could fail to result in increased costs, especially how British cottons might replace cheaper Japanese cottons without added costs to the consumer.

Judging from information obtained from native sources the assurances of M. Coursier did not arouse much hope in the minds of native merchants, and therefore his mission of placating opposition to the French schemes in that quarter was not a success.

The same result may be surmised from private interviews among leading business men concerning the conferences with the two trade bodies mentioned in the first paragraph. My informants were distinctly of the impression that M. Coursier was sent from Paris at this juncture on a trip of conciliation, in order to bring back into line the sentiment of the business community in favor of the Government proposals. All seem agreed that Mr. Coursier accomplished very little in this respect, and that in certain instances the opposition had become stronger and bolder. Even the Government organ, the Petit Marocain, has indulged in criticism of some of the vague and indefinite statements made by M. Coursier, which although sounding most pleasant to the ear, have lacked many things in the form of definite conclusions so much desired by a worried business public.

In direct contrast with the suave diplomacy practiced by M. Coursier, another method of more brutal character has been employed by the President of the Chamber of Commerce, M. Chapon, who has also just returned from the Paris Conference. M. Chapon was the specially appointed delegate from the Resident-General, and is supposed to act as his mouthpiece in dealing with Moroccan business organizations. His Secretary, M. Renoux, has reported back in Casablanca that in Paris there seemed to be an astonishing feeling against Moroccan economic aspirations because Morocco bought too much from foreign countries, and not enough from France. The situation, therefore, was dominated by the greed of French industrialists to expand their foreign markets at any cost, and if possible, to impose a policy upon French Morocco. At this stage of the negotiations the Moroccan delegation was confronted with the following offer, and was told that they could take it or leave it:

That Morocco must reform her customs tariff in such a manner to restore to France her former share of import trade (about 65%) by instituting a system of quotas and contingents.

[Page 976]

In exchange for this, Morocco would receive assistance in her debt burden; assistance for French colonists in Morocco; maintenance of present quotas of local products allowed to enter France duty free and vague promises to increase same; inclusion of Morocco in any commercial treaties between France and a foreign power. Failure to accept these conditions would mean the abandonment of Morocco to her own resources, and the withdrawal by France of present import quotas at the end of two years, leaving Morocco as any other foreign country with respect to imports to France. It was also stated that Morocco would not be in position to defend herself against trade barriers erected by other nations, because her only method of negotiation is through the Quai d’Orsay.

This “ultimatum” handed to the Moroccan delegation is believed to have been intended as a “big stick” to be employed by Chapon upon his return in an effort to frighten local business into submission to the Government proposals; that it was a mere bluff, as France cannot afford to abandon the Protectorate in the fashion outlined above. So far the effects of the ultimatum have been nil, and it appears that the trade bodies are as firmly opposed to the Government program as ever. Such a policy, if it may be so dignified, is, however, along the lines so frequently adopted by the French industrialists, dominated by powerful banking groups, who are well known in Morocco for their selfish and short-sighted attitude, and who leave the Quai d’Orsay the task of finding some devious means of putting their programs into effect.

The Consulate is reliably informed that when the delegation of the Comité des Industriels interviewed M. Laval, he became incensed over the proposed increase in duties and told M. Ponsot, Resident-General, that he had been instructed some time ago to reduce costs of administration by 60 million francs, and that the figure now should be raised to 100 millions; that the question of customs duties, if necessary, would receive consideration after administrative economies had been effected. In another interview with Moroccan delegates the French Prime Minister again showed impatience with regard to their demands by stating that he was well acquainted with affairs in the Protectorate, and that if they would only set their house in order before complaining they would have nothing to complain about.

The information submitted above does not tend to clarify the confused situation in the matter of proposed customs reform, but it is believed that several more missing pieces have been added to the puzzle. Local opposition among responsible trade organizations, also in the press, is crystallising, and becoming more open in the battle. On the other hand, M. Coursier, the official negotiator of the Resident-General, has been unable to give any assurance that the official project [Page 977] has been accepted by any foreign power. Nothing more is heard of the reported British acceptance of last December, and my Belgian colleague states that his Government has accepted nothing. Well informed persons seem to agree on the following:

—That the whole scheme was put forward for fiscal reasons, and in an effort to make a breach in the Act of Algéciras,
—That the Resident-General and M. Coursier appear to be very doubtful whether the reform will go through, as M. Coursier has already hinted that “there is still time to back water”,
—That most of the present activities of the local delegates who have returned, are principally to save the face of the Resident General,
—That local commercial bodies, Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Corporations, Comité Central des Industriels, are reaching an agreement in views, viz, that the status quo is the best solution of the present confusion, and that the project in its present form should be opposed.

The writer therefore firmly believes that in view of the marked division of opinion in Morocco itself, and the manifest deficiencies in the whole French proposal, as has been reported upon frequently, there appears to be an excellent chance that it will be shelved as unworkable and undesirable. The necessity, however, of maintaining our opposition to the French scheme is by no means lessened, since the slightest indifference, or hint of concessions of any nature, is immediately caught up and broadcast in multiple volume, in the endeavor to weaken opposition on another front.

Respectfully yours,

George D. Hopper
  1. Neither printed.