The South African Minister (Close) to the Acting Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Acting Secretary: I have not formally acknowledged the receipt of the letter from Mr. Secretary Hull of the 8th instant though when carrying out the suggestion of that letter in meeting you for our informal conversation on Wednesday, 12th instant, I expressed my sincere appreciation of the very friendly spirit evinced in the terms of that letter.

I now formally acknowledge the letter and renew my expressions of appreciation.

I now also wish to thank you for your note of the 15th instant and for the information given in it.

In writing this note I am still communicating with you informally as I have no instructions as yet as to putting anything officially to the United States Government: and am doing so only in the hope which I know you share that our preliminary informal discussions may clear the ground somewhat, and also doing so in further pursuance of the objects dealt with in Mr. Secretary Hull’s letter above.

You will remember how seriously I spoke at what you happily term our pleasant conversation, on Wednesday the 12th instant, as to the picture as it presents itself to those concerned in our large wine and fruit industries: and as to the rising tide of resentment that has developed. As I told you, the expressions of strong feeling are not confined to those interested in these industries only: they are now being seriously taken up in other very influential quarters—Press and otherwise—widely known with us for sanity of view and sound commonsense.

What I then told you has been emphasised a good deal by what has reached me in the mails since then.

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Your representatives in South Africa no doubt have kept you posted on all this—and on the variety of more or less drastic forms of action which are being pressed—ranging from 100% duties to a boycott, and including withdrawal of the Union Representatives from Washington.

You and I both wish to bring about a better feeling. I will therefore in this informal note write frankly as to the directions in which a remedy may possibly be sought.

Without going into the merits or otherwise of general allegations made in South Africa, I wish to repeat as strongly as possible what I said to you—that even assuming, as I do, that no legal or technical discrimination is made here against South African products as such, there may be factual points in actual practice which in effect do lead to a real discrimination and have virtually the same effect as a legal discrimination.

As to Wines and Spirits. The constant changes of regulations are bound to operate very harshly as against producers in a country several thousand miles away. The hardship it is said is intensified greatly by the rapid succession of changes—and by the short notice often given for some of the changes to come into effect. You can see how easily the distant exporter, who quite probably has spent much time and money say on bottles and labels complying strictly with an existing United States of America regulation, can be made to suffer considerable loss by a sudden new amending regulation that simply nullifies everything done in compliance with the regulation hitherto in force and already acted upon in all good faith.

In one interview Mr. Kohler, I understand, stated that after putting certain “samples” of K. W. V.8 products on board a ship for the United States of America—such samples being “of the essence” for trade development—he had to take them off that ship owing to a new change of regulation which came to his notice at the last moment and which made it useless to send the samples though these had complied with the regulations as known at the time of shipping. That he apparently said was the last straw that led to his cancelling the K. W. V. Trade representation here.

You will remember that at our conversation I urged strongly that from the Union producers point of view, it would be clear that in the making and changing of regulations here “geography” had not been allowed for: and accordingly that regulations even though otherwise in force, of general application, might and in many instances, would in the case of distant producers operate as a very real discrimination against him.

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I suggested, therefore, that one way of helping to avoid this appearance of discrimination—that is of this discrimination in fact—would be to consider the advisability of following the principle of allowing time for each change to come into operation, reasonably sufficient to let the distant producer prepare to meet the changes and avoid as far as possible the loss in time, trouble and money which he at present is exposed to.

For reasons I gave, I suggested that the authorities might consider a time allowance of at least three months—and better still four.

You considered that this idea might be explored.

You refer in your note to the Regulations of December 1935: which were apparently intended to consolidate the regulations and stabilise the position. You will remember that I brought these regulations with me and discussed them at our conversation—and that I pointed out then that while the wine regulations seemed to have remained unaltered except for an extension of the date of operation the Spirit Regulations had been materially altered: and, that we were equally much interested in Spirit Regulations in view of our Brandy products. Moreover, I pointed out that at least one alteration—I think the definition of “brandy”—might be of the utmost importance: yet it was to come into effect in a very short time after promulgation. This was a casual but very illuminating illustration of the point as to short notice.

Obviously no one can question the right of the United States Administration to make alterations in its laws regardless of consequences. The spirit in which our conversation took place was of course not on that basis: the question before us was whether the exercise of such a indubitable right could be made in such a way as to achieve the objects of allaying the strong feeling in South Africa and so of lessening the force of the demand there that other indubitable rights should be exercised, if the difficulties I have referred to remain unaltered.

Whether this should be done depends no doubt on whether it is considered worth while for the United States officials to aim at achieving those objects.

You and I in our friendly informal conversation both agreed that it was very desirable that the possibility of achieving those objects should be fully explored.

It will probably be very difficult to secure these objects if the distant producer has to continue to face not only actual losses in time, work and money, but to contend with the uncertainty which has been engendered and will otherwise remain constantly in his mind as to what changes will be made—and how and when. That uncertainty means either a paralysis or death of trade.

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Therefore while I am grateful for the information you give me—I must in this connection refer particularly to one aspect of it. You say that the Administration does not now perceive any cause for further amendments of any of its regulations. But while that is so now, yet if and when it does “perceive cause” then no doubt the necessary further amendment will follow. In view of that—and of the fact that the Administration gives no hint as to a policy of giving any notice at all—I unfortunately do not as yet see any reason for hoping that I can assure my Government, if asked on this point, that any changes will be made on what to the distant producer will appear as reasonable notice. Whether any such assurance can be given I do not know: but without such assurance at least one strong factor in South African feeling will remain with all the possibilities of which you will no doubt have been informed.

As to Fruit. I am very grateful for your expression of genuine interest in arriving at an early solution and for your promise of cooperation with other branches of the Government.

Here again you will like me to speak frankly as I did at our discussion on Wednesday the 12th: which I believe was pleasant to both of us because the frankness indicated the spirit of mutual desire to arrest the developing troubles.

For this reason I repeat what I then said, viz. that I am very uneasy about the Fruit question.

Our South African scientific experts came here last November to explain their reasons for holding after full investigation and experiment and tests that the system which had been developed in South Africa had eliminated any danger of the Fruit Fly pest being carried here in our grapes. Rightly they agreed of course that as a scientific matter their tests and conclusions should be investigated by the United States Departmental Scientists for verification or otherwise. They were told this would take some time: and they left the United States of America in good hope of a decision on the tests within possibly six months I think. As nothing had been communicated to us, we wrote informally on the 23rd July last to Dr. Strong the Chief of the Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine asking when the decision might be expected. The reply was wholly indefinite on this point: except that evidently a long delay is contemplated. Accordingly at the present moment it looks as if the ensuing season for grape export from South Africa—say from middle of December next onwards—will be entirely lost to us: even if the decision of the United States Experts is in our favour. This fact, as you know, will intensify the fruit farmers existing strong feelings.

The South African fruit farmers are so confident that our Fruit experts are right that they are at present already voicing views and [Page 867] suggestions of a very strong character as no doubt you know. They too demand retaliatory acts. Again it is largely a question of what is worth while to the United States of America—whether to allay the feeling or not.

But as I told you, my personal view is that it will probably be considered by my Government most important to have some decision—and an early one—so that it may know how to act—and act as soon as possible—if it decides to do so.

If the United States experts agree with the South African experts then caedit quaestio I suppose: and so our grapes should promptly come in. If they do not agree with ours—as I have no instructions I can only hazard for your own information my own personal forecast—which is that my Government will almost certainly rely on the correctness of our own experts: just as the United States Government will probably act on reliance of its own experts. Then what either side may do is at present speculative: but there are of course possibilities.

You may remember that at our conversation I gave you a very apposite illustration of how a regulation of seemingly general application can operate as a practical discrimination. When in April 1934 a regulation was issued by the United States of America permitting the introduction of grapes under certain conditions one of these conditions was as to the “container”. I at once pointed out to you—and then through you personally to scientists in the Department of Agriculture—that I believed this “container” condition would render the permission for the entry of grapes useless for South African Growers however much it might suit, e. g. Spain, owing to the entirely different conditions: distance, kind of grape (ours are of first class but delicate table varieties) and other things.

In my letter to you of 11th April, 1936 [1935], I pointed this out referring to my letter of 27th February, 1936 [1935].9

Our fruit farmers then spoke strongly about this form of practical discrimination: and have lately spoken strongly about it again. For the containers so far approved by the Department of Agriculture here are practically useless for our purposes.

Though our fruit farmers have sent several samples of boxes suited for their purpose and they hoped suitable for the Department of Agriculture purposes here, none have met with departmental approval here. That our farmers do not understand: especially as I should point out—as I did at the time—that a long delay in arriving at a decision on one sample took place. If that sample had been approved of, fruit shipments could have come last season.

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It happens, however, that in the end that sample was not approved of.

I am sure you will appreciate my personal position in the matter. My anxiety to remove the causes of irritation matches your anxiety. The only hope of removal is to state in this informal discussion exactly what some of the prominent causes for irritation are. If they can be, and are, removed, that is all to the good. If they cannot be removed—or if by the other authorities whose cooperation you desire, it is not thought worth while to remove them—then you and I will equally, I am sure, deplore the unfortunate possibilities.

Very sincerely yours,

Ralph Close
  1. Ko-operatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Suid-Afrika, Beperkt.
  2. Neither printed.