The Minister in Haiti (Armour) to the Secretary of State

No. 565

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s air mail instruction No. 273 of March 9, 1935,20 transmitting one copy of the revised French text of the Trade Agreement with Haiti,21 together with one copy of a memorandum listing the principal departures from the French text as supplied by the Haitian Government to Minister Blanchet. There was also enclosed with the instruction one copy of a memorandum of the English text of the agreement, which I note it is expected will be the final English text to sign.

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After examining these texts, I took the liberty of furnishing the Fiscal Representative22 copies of them, in view of the fact that he informs me that the copy supplied M. Blanchet23 had not yet been received by the Haitian Government. This enabled the Haitian Government to examine the suggested final text, in anticipation of the arrival of their own copies.

This morning, the Minister for Foreign Affairs24 asked Mr. de la Rue and myself to come to see him, when he informed me that the Haitian Government, after examination of the texts, had approved them and was now ready to sign the Treaty.

Before doing so, however, M. Hibbert said that he and the President felt, in all frankness, they would have to instruct M. Blanchet to present to the Department for its consideration the very serious situation in which the Haitian Government now found itself as a result of the new position which the French Government, through its Minister and Commercial Attaché here, had taken in their negotiations looking toward a new commercial treaty with Haiti. In a recent letter (personal) to the Assistant Secretary of State, Mr. Welles, I touched upon these French demands as well as the concessions the French representatives offered if the French demands were accepted by the Haitian Government. I did not have at that time, however, the text of the French memorandum25 constituting an “exposé des motifs”, which I am now enclosing, together with Annex I25 enumerating the French products for which a reduction is demanded. It will be noted that in addition to those articles covered by the avenant to the Treaty signed last March, as well as the former commercial treaty,26 there is attached a long list of new products covering a very comprehensive number of articles.

M. Hibbert, after handing me this memorandum to read, said it would be clear to me that virtually none of the new articles mentioned as French products came within the principle under which the avenant was signed, i. e., that certain specified products under the theory that they are specialities of France, and are so classified and listed by name, are given a special reduction under the Haitian tariff.

M. Hibbert added that while this was bad enough, the French Minister, in handing them this list, had pointed out that the modus vivendi27 under which they were now functioning, the commercial [Page 652] treaty having expired, would itself come to an end on April first next, and that his Government had advised him that it would be unable to extend it beyond that date. In other words, the French Government expected action on the treaty to be taken, and taken immediately. Furthermore, the Haitian Government was advised that the French Government would not hesitate if it found it necessary to do so, to close its coffee market to Haiti, if its terms were not met, pointing out that this had been done last year in the case of Brazil where of course a far larger commerce was involved.

M. Hibbert said that in view of the above, he hoped very much that the American Government would be willing to lend its good offices to help the Haitian Government in its present predicament, which appears to be as follows: If the Haitian Government signs the Trade Convention with the United States, thus committing itself to the unconditional most-favored-nation principle; and if they then found themselves compelled, in order to save their coffee market, and this implies their budget, to sign a commercial treaty with France, giving them the special treatment demanded in the attached memorandum—most of the articles named not falling within the spirit of the present avenant on which an agreed interpretation of Article VII of the trade convention with the United States is based—they would be compelled to grant to the United States and to all other nations enjoying most-favored-nation treatment the same concessions thus granted to France. This would have of course disastrous results on the Haitian budget—import duties constituting its principal source of revenue, for it will be recalled that, for the average Haitian budget of seven million dollars, six million dollars comes from the Customs receipts.

On the other hand, if the Haitian Government were to decide now, at the last moment, not to sign the Trade Convention with the United States, and to meet the French demands, this could be interpreted only as meaning that they had repudiated the commitments taken at Montevideo,29 and as contained in the American convention, but would furthermore probably lose for them the support and assistance of the United States, on which they counted, and whose policies they had accepted, and finally might lose for them those advantages, notably in the development of the banana market which they hoped confidently would be the principal factor in solving their present economic difficulties.

For this reason, M. Hibbert ventured to hope that the American Government would be willing to lend its good offices vis-à-vis the [Page 653] French Government, through the French Ambassador in Washington, M. de Laboulaye, with a view to inducing the French Government to restrict its demands on Haiti, to such articles as might be interpreted as coming within the principle of the avenant, that is, non-competitive French specialities. M. Hibbert said that the French Minister here was aware of the agreement under which the American Government, although enjoying the benefit of most-favored-nation treatment under the Trade Convention about to be signed, would not be disposed to criticise the special treatment to be accorded French specialities of a non-competitive type as under the avenant, provided of course these articles were so classified and specified by name and were as stated above, non-competitive French specialities.

The French Minister and the Commercial Attaché both, he said, had seemed to appreciate the position taken by the American Government, but now they explained that they were helpless in the face of very definite and drastic instructions issued by their own government, under which they were compelled to insist upon reductions on all articles demanded in return for an agreement to maintain the present quota of Haitian coffee, and such other concessions as the French Government was disposed to make on their recommendation.

Parenthetically, it might be remarked, that at a meeting between the Haitian Minister for Foreign Affairs and the French Minister and Commercial Attaché yesterday, Mr. de la Rue was invited to be present, and explained in some detail how little practical benefit the proposed French concessions—other than coffee—constituting a quota of 10,000 tons of sugar to be admitted under the minimum tariff, and a quota of 10,000 French gallons of rum, also to be admitted under the minimum tariff, would really be to Haiti, in view of the preference accorded these products emanating from the French colonial possessions. (See memorandum covering this matter prepared by Mr. de la Rue, constituting enclosure No. 2 to this despatch.30)

M. Hibbert seemed to feel, however, that if our Government would be willing to point out informally to the French Ambassador at Washington the situation as it exists, explaining the nature of the commitments taken at Montevideo, and the text of the pending Trade Convention between Haiti and the United States of America, expressing the hope that the French Government, in view of the disastrous effects upon the Haitian budget, might be willing to restrict its demands for special preference only to those articles falling within the principle of the avenant—that this would save the financial position of the Haitian Government and at the same time keep foreign markets open to Haitian products.

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Otherwise, he felt very strongly that if they proceeded to sign the Trade Convention with the United States, and then by the time he was ready to go before the Legislature to secure its ratification, the French Government had accomplished its threat to close its coffee market to Haiti (unless its demands were acceded to), he, to say nothing of the Government, would find himself in an impossible situation before the Legislature.

M. Hibbert stated that it was unfortunate that Haiti was only on the eve of real banana production and not in the position in which he hoped they would be, in some two years from now, to snap their fingers at the French threat and to look for coffee markets elsewhere, which he felt they could do once they had a secondary crop like bananas upon which to rely. Until that time came, however, it was an unfortunate fact that the French were in a position to threaten them effectively, and he felt sure that the American Government would be the first to appreciate the impossibility for the Haitian Government to ignore this French threat, which, as we would see from the demands set forth in the enclosed memorandum, is a very real one.

The above, roughly, is the gist of what M. Hibbert brought out this morning. However, the matter is more fully and thoroughly gone into in Mr. de la Rue’s memorandum reporting the actual meeting of the previous day. M. Hibbert informed me that M. Blanchet is being instructed in the above sense, his object in bringing the matter to my attention merely being to ask whether I would not be willing to support them in the position they had taken. This I am the more willing to do, as I fully believe that on careful examination of the case, the Department will agree with Mr. de la Rue’s statement that it seems impossible to believe that the French Government would deliberately—with full knowledge of the commitments taken by Haiti at Montevideo, not to mention the pending Haitian American trade convention—insist upon the Haitian Government abandoning these principles to which we and they are committed, or wrecking their budget through the loss of the French coffee market. After all, as is pointed out in Mr. de la Rue’s memorandum, the majority of the articles listed by the French for further reduction do not come under the principle of the avenant which was worked out by him with the French Ambassador at Washington a year ago, nor is it possible for France to expect that any great betterment in trade will result if their demands are accepted. According to M. Hibbert and Mr. de la Rue, both French officials here recognize this, but insist on an acceptance which will embarrass Haiti simply as a political necessity to satisfy French commercial groups.

For this reason, I hope that the Department will be willing to consider favorably the Haitian request and to see what can be done vis-à-vis the French. If, as I understand, negotiations are about to be [Page 655] opened looking toward the conclusion of a trade convention between France and the United States, then perhaps this fact might make the French more disposed to consider favorably such representations as the Department might feel could properly be made.

Respectfully yours,

Norman Armour
  1. Not printed.
  2. Signed March 28, 1935, Executive Agreement Series No. 78; for correspondence concerning the negotiation of this agreement, see pp. 642 ff.
  3. Sidney de la Rue.
  4. Albert Blanchet, Haitian Minister in the United States.
  5. Lucien Hibbert.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Not printed.
  8. The avenant, signed March 10, 1934, extended the Franco-Haitian commercial convention of April 12, 1930. For text of the avenant, see Le Moniteur, Journal Offciel de la Répulique d’Haiti, April 23, 1934, p. 255; for text of the 1930 convention, see Journal Officiel de la République Française: Lois et Décrets, July 4, 1930, p. 7434, and Martens, Nouveau recueil général de traitćs et autres actes relatifs aux rapports de droit international, 3 sér., tome xxxiv, p. 791.
  9. The avenant of March 10, 1934, constituted in effect a modus vivendi.
  10. Resolution V, Economic, Commercial, and Tariff Policy, approved December 16, 1933, Report of the Delegates of the United States of America to the Seventh International Conference of American States, Montevideo, Uruguay, December 3–26, 1933 (Washington, 1934), pp. 196–198.
  11. Not printed.