The American Consul at Beirut (Steger) to the French High Commissioner (De Martel)2

[No.] 360

The American Consul presents his compliments to His Excellency the French High Commissioner, and begs to call attention to the fact that the provisions of Arrêté No. 292/LR, of December 20, 1934,3 appear to constitute a limitation of the privileges assured to American educational and philanthropical institutions in the Levant States under French Mandate.

As one of the preliminaries to the signing, on April 4, 1924, of the convention between the United States and France4 with respect to the rights of the two Governments and their nationals in Syria and the Lebanon, M. Poincaré, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a letter addressed, under date of November 2, 1923, to the American Ambassador at Paris,5 assured the American Government that its nationals should enjoy all privileges accorded to those of any other power. Specifically mentioned in this connection as applicable also to American nationals were certain assurances which had been given to the Italian Government,6 among which the following are quoted:

“Le Gouvernement Français assure le Gouvernement Royale que les écoles, orphelinats, asiles, hôpitaux et dispensaires italiens jouiront en Syrie et au Liban de la franchise douanière, exception faite pour les institutions qui se livreront a des entreprises ayant un caractere commercial.

[Page 461]

“Les marchandises importées à l’usage personnel des membres de ces institutions seront admis en franchise jusqu’à concurrence d’une somme à déterminer.”7

In negotiations with regard to the interpretation of these assurances, carried on between this Consulate General and the French High Commission, and later between the American Embassy at Paris and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the American Government consistently maintained that the wording of the above mentioned statements clearly guarantees to American educational and philanthropical institutions free customs entry, without limitation as to either the quantity or the character of merchandise, for all goods imported for the establishment and maintenance of such institutions.

The American Government has further consistently maintained that the agreement reached between it and the Government of France cannot be modified or restricted by local ordinances promulgated and put into effect in Syria and the Lebanon. This contention of the American Government was unreservedly accepted by the French Government on November 4, 1930, as appears from a communication addressed by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the American Embassy under date of March 10, 1931. A copy of this note is enclosed for ready reference.8

The provisions of Arrêté No. 292/LR appear to impose the following restrictions on importations of merchandise for the use of educational and philanthropical institutions:

Duty-free importations for the use of these institutions are, by the terms of this Arrêté, strictly limited both in quantity and in kind.
According to semi-official information given by the competent customs officials, duty-free importation of goods for personal use is limited to members of religious communities and evangelical missions, to the exclusion of the personnel of non-sectarian schools.

In view of the fact that the provisions and the application of Arrêté No. 292/LR are clearly in conflict with the rights assured to American institutions by M. Poincaré’s letter of November 2, 1923, and reaffirmed by the note of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its note of March 10, 1931, Mr. Steger trusts that M. de Martel will give instructions to the end that the provisions of this Arrêté shall not be applied to American educational and philanthropical institutions and their personnel, and that customs duties incorrectly assessed since the entry into effect of the Arrêté shall be refunded.

  1. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Consul in his despatch No. 852, March 18, 1935; received April 22.
  2. For text, see Executive Agreement Series No. 107, p. 6.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1924, vol. i, p. 741.
  4. Ibid., 1923, vol. ii, p. 4.
  5. The assurances were given in the Franco-Italian agreement of September 29, 1923; see ibid., p. 5. For French text, see High Commission of French Republic in Syria and the Lebanon, Les Actes Diplomatiques en vigueur au 1er avril 1935 dans les États du Levant sous Mandat français, p. 361.
  6. These two paragraphs are article 7 in the original agreement. For translation, see Foreign Relations, 1923, vol. ii, p. 6.
  7. Not printed.