665D.006/1: Telegram

The Minister Resident in Ethiopia (Engert) to the Secretary of State

565. I was about to bring to the Department’s attention certain difficulties encountered by importers of American goods when I received the Department’s 360, September 26, 1 p.m. The following brief observations constitute all that can be said on the subject at the present moment:

Although in paragraph 6 of Italy’s note to the League of last June,68 the Italian Government promises “to guarantee freedom of transit and communications and fair treatment for the trade of all countries”, there have been many indications during the past 5 months that the Italian authorities in Ethiopia have no present intention of keeping that promise. A number of importers of foreign merchandise have told me Italian officials have openly said in conversation that as far as possible only Italian goods would be allowed to come in so as to reimburse Italy for the expenses of the war. Such statements are, of course, never made officially or in writing.
As regards specifically American articles, the following cases have recently come to my attention:
The Ford agent tells me he could sell hundreds of cars, but all his efforts to obtain import licenses have been fruitless. The latest refusal was charged against the congested conditions of the railroad.
A merchant desiring to import Remington typewriters was verbally told “Italian typewriters are good enough for us”, but the official refusal merely said they could not sell him any dollars at present.
Similar reply was made to another dealer who wished to import Chrysler and Plymouth cars.
A request to import Ever-Ready batteries was refused without any reason being given.
On the other hand Italian goods of every description, notably, for example, Fiat cars, are beginning to arrive in large quantities. It is quite obvious that preference is being given to articles from Italy, not only as regards import licenses but also as regards permits to ship by/from Djibouti, and the purchase of foreign exchange. I also understand that there is much graft connected with all three operations.
Arbitrary decisions which discriminate against goods of non-Italian origin are greatly facilitated by the confused banking and exchange situation which has not improved since the Legation’s 451, July 3, 7 p.m. and 543, September 2, 11 a.m. See also my despatch No. 158, July 17.69
As the Legation, despite repeated requests, finds it extremely difficult to obtain copies of decrees when issued, it is not certain that we have all regulations regarding trade, et cetera. The principal ones appear to be:
Decree of May 29, 1936, prohibiting exportation of precious metals coined or bullion (Legation’s telegram 383, May 31, 11 a.m.)70
Decree of June 9, prohibiting exportation of foreign or Italian paper money, securities, drafts or any other form of exchange without previous authorization (Legation’s telegram 420, June 14, 11 a.m.).70
Ministerial decree of June 10, published by the Ministry of Finance in Rome, prohibiting exportation of Italian banknotes to or importation from Italian possessions.
Decree of June 20 establishing register of all merchants. Export or import licenses to be granted only to registered firms.
Decree of June 22, requiring previous authorization for the exportation or importation of merchandise and for the purchase and exportation of foreign exchange.

  1. Telegram in two sections.
  2. For summary of Italian note, see telegram No. 242, June 30, noon, from The Chargé in Italy, p. 173.
  3. None printed.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Not printed.