The Department of State to the Danish Legation


The Danish Legation is advised that the French Government has made certain proposals to this Government, through the latter’s representatives in Paris and in Morocco, regarding a modification of the customs regime in Morocco. Subsequent to a very careful study of the proposals in question, this Government, through the American Embassy at Paris, on April 6, 1935, in a communication,73 advised the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs that it could not usefully negotiate on the proposals and formally protested against the institution of the proposed modifications of the customs regime. As yet no reply has been received to this note.

The first official information concerning the French proposals received by this Government was the report of an interview reputed [Page 984] to have been given out at Paris in November, 1933, by M. Ponsot, following his appointment as Resident General of the French Protectorate of Morocco. M. Ponsot was quoted as stating that with the task of pacification of the Moroccan tribesmen reduced to a question of secondary importance, the economic and financial problems of the Protectorate Government were now foremost. The customs regime, he declared, born of the Conference of Algéciras and of the anterior treaties, does not respond to the actual conditions of the country, and the system is unjust and superannuated. Morocco, M. Ponsot added, does not protest against the principle of equal opportunity for all its suppliers, but this condition cannot be maintained without the admission of the principle of reciprocity which would permit the country to balance its trade.

The above thesis was further elucidated in a note, a copy of which was furnished the American Diplomatic Agent at Tangier, in September, 1934,74 addressed to the French Ambassador in Washington by M. Ponsot. In this note it was announced that the French proposed to establish in Morocco a new customs regime involving tariff modifications and quotas, as well as a system envisaging a balancing of trade between Morocco and the several countries trading with that country. The propitious moment for the introduction of the new regime, it was stated, appears to be January 1, 1935, the date upon which would expire the period of thirty years for which the Franco-British declaration of April 8, 1904, had contemplated the maintenance of the “principle of commercial liberty” both in Morocco and in Egypt. Reference was also made in the note to the desire of the French to eliminate the danger of Japanese competition in Morocco, the British being quoted as having requested safeguards in connection with their cotton goods trade in Morocco.

Subsequently, M. Ponsot requested an informal interview with the American Diplomatic Agent in Morocco, and this meeting took place at Rabat on November 17, 1934.75 In this conference and in a previous conference with M. Coursier, representing M. Ponsot, the American Diplomatic Agent was furnished additional information regarding the French proposals. In these conversations the American Diplomatic Agent, acting upon instructions of this Department,76 advised the French representatives that it appeared that the French were asking this Government to give up the principle of the “Open Door” in favor of a system of contingents, and furthermore were seeking to effect a close bilateral balancing of trade between Morocco [Page 985] and the United States. Both of these principles, M. Ponsot was informed, are directly contrary to the commercial program of the American Secretary of State. It was suggested to M. Ponsot that in the event some modification of the present regime in Morocco should become necessary, a reasonable increase in the customs rates for revenue purposes might be effected, provided the rates were uniform, void of discrimination, and agreed to by the Powers signatory to the Act of Algeciras.

In December, 1934, this Government instructed the American Embassy at Paris77 to point out informally to the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs that in the judgment of this Government quota systems are inherently discriminatory, and that the establishment of such a system in Morocco would not only strike at the heart of the principle of commercial equality as guaranteed in the treaties and conventions regarding Morocco, but it would constitute the establishment of new trade barriers against nations at the very moment when the nations are seeking to formulate policies which are calculated to remove excessive restrictions with the view of encouraging the fullest volume of mutually profitable trade. The attention of the French Ministry was also directed to the guarantees of the principle of “commercial equality” asserted by the French Government in various declarations, treaties and conventions which constitute the basis of the French control and administration of Morocco. The French were advised further of this Government’s strong attachment to the maintenance of the principle of the “Open Door” in Morocco and elsewhere.

The French proposals, submitted subsequently to this Government, envisaged: (1) a quota system applied equally to all countries on the basis of their trade during certain years; (2) new tariff rates in lieu of the maximum 12½ percent rate which has been in vogue since the Conference of Algeciras in 1906; (3) a Committee of Last Resort for the hearing of customs disputes; (4) equalization of so-called port taxes; (5) the new system to be applied to the whole of Morocco, including the Spanish Zone and the International Zone of Tangier.

In the meantime this Government learned that notes sanctioning the new system in the French and in the Tangier Zones were exchanged between Great Britain and France in January, 1935, with the proviso that the agreement relating to the French Zone would not become effective except simultaneously with those relating to the Tangier and Spanish Zones, and further that the agreement relating to the Tangier Zone must be approved by the Tangier Legislative Assembly and the Tangier Committee of Control, under the Statute of 1923. This Government has also received confidential information to the [Page 986] effect that the Italian Government agreed to the French proposals, subject to certain reservations, and that the Netherland Government would in principle oppose the French program. Although the French representatives indicated in the early stages of the negotiations that they would likely institute the new customs regime on January 1, 1935, no change has taken place as yet. Recent information received from the American representatives in Morocco indicate that there is considerable opposition to the French proposals in Morocco.

This Government’s formal protest against the French proposals referred to in the first paragraph of this Aide-Mémoire, was along the following lines:78

  • “(1) This Government strongly believes that it is obligatory that the parties to the Act of Algeciras should not only be consulted but that each Power should acquiesce before any changes are made in the customs regime in Morocco.
  • “(2) The system proposed by the French, involving quotas, would prove to be discriminatory, and, therefore, definitely out of harmony with the principle of commercial equality as guaranteed in the Act of Algeciras and by the French in various treaties and declarations which constitute the foundation of the French Administration of Morocco.
  • “(3) The establishment of such a system would be particularly unfortunate at this time when efforts are being made to increase world trade by the removal of trade barriers.
  • “(4) From the point of view of this Government the essence of the Moroccan question is the maintenance of the ‘Open Door’ which would preclude our assenting to any proposals inconsistent therewith.”

  1. See telegram No. 92, March 16, 3 p.m., to the Ambassador in France, p. 973.
  2. Enclosure 4 with despatch No. 975, October 5, 1934, from the Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Tangier; not printed.
  3. See despatch No. 993, November 23, 1934, from the Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Tangier, Foreign Relations, 1934, vol. ii, p. 863.
  4. See telegram No. 9, November 6, 1934, 6 p.m., to the Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Tangier, Ibid., p. 853.
  5. See instruction No. 669, December 18, 1934, to the Ambassador in France, Foreign Relations, 1934, vol. ii, p. 876.
  6. This same information “was given orally in confidence” to the Netherlands Minister (April 15); to the Spanish Ambassador (April 16); to the Swedish Minister (April 17). (681.003/189)