Memorandum by Mr. Samuel Reber of the Division of Western European Affairs of a Conversation Between the South African Minister (Close) and the Assistant Chief of the Division (Culbertson)4

Mr. Culbertson explained that the Secretary had been very much concerned by newspaper articles indicating that the South African [Page 858] Wine Growers Association was withdrawing from the United States in consequence of American regulations which made the sale of South African wines impossible and that an active campaign was being carried on in South Africa for retaliation against American products, even possibly in the form of a boycott.

Mr. Culbertson further stated that the Secretary was desirous to have these alleged charges thoroughly investigated as he was most anxious to avoid any disturbing element in relations with South Africa toward which he had always been animated by the most friendly feelings.

The Minister then gave a long explanation of what he considered to be the principal factors which were causing certain groups in South Africa to demand that retaliatory action be taken. He said that as in other Dominions there was considerable concern expressed over the adverse trade balance with the United States. This sentiment was being actively supported by dissatisfied groups which for various reasons had been unable to sell their products in the United States. He read several extracts from the local South African press which were distinctly unfriendly in tone and charged that United States regulations for the importation of both wines and fruits were of a political character and intended to keep out their products. Particular dissatisfaction is being shown by the wine exporters and by the fruit growers.

As regards the wine question the Minister said that he had received instructions from South Africa to investigate the situation and had been informed by the wine growers in South Africa that constant changes in American regulations made it impossible for them to import wines. They said each time a shipment had been made the regulations had been changed and entry refused. The exporters could no longer continue to ship goods in the face of this obstacle. The Minister did not, however, cite any specific instances of where a change in regulations had been directed against South African products.

With reference to the fruit question he said that the South African producers are most anxious to enter the American market and last year had sent two government entomologists to this country to see if they could satisfy the American authorities that methods of shipment employed in South Africa would serve to combat the Mediterranean fruit fly and satisfy the Department of Agriculture requirements with regard to shipments of grapes. They had been informed that experiments would be carried on upon the basis of their recommendations and suggestions, but had heard nothing further as to the results of their experiments.

Throughout his explanation the Minister kept reiterating that he was only setting forth the views of the South African producers.

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The Minister also said that he had had difficulty in obtaining free entry for travel literature coming to this country for the purposes of informing Americans of South Africa and encouraging tourists to travel in that part of the world. The Minister said that Customs regulations had been changed and that he had been informed that the shipment already under way would be subject to a penalty as it was improperly registered for entry. He felt very strongly that his Government should not be subject to a penalty merely because Customs officials decided that the goods should be classified under another heading rather than under the provision under which he had been bringing them into the country for the last three years.

In conclusion Mr. Close said he had been considering asking to see the Secretary to discuss these questions with him.

When Mr. Culbertson attempted to explain the American position with regard to each of the points raised by the Minister, or to point out that South African products were subject to identic regulations imposed on like shipments from other countries, it was obvious that the Minister was not at all disposed to listen. In fact he kept interrupting and appeared only interested in putting forth his own views although he was full of assurances that he was anxious to find a mutually satisfactory solution. Consequently it was considered advisable on the occasion of this first discussion merely to take note of the Minister’s explanations to say that the whole subject was being thoroughly investigated by the Department and to arrange for a further discussion with the Minister at an early date to be set.

In view of the attitude taken by the South African representatives, the Secretary may wish to invite the Minister to the Department, present very fully the information which has been obtained on these three subjects, and to draw his attention to the obvious unfairness and fallacies of the arguments presented by the South Africans.

S[amuel] R[eber]
  1. Robert Webster, Secretary of the South African Legation, was also present.