500.C1112/110: Telegram (part air)

The Consul at Geneva (Gilbert) to the Secretary of State

88. Department’s No. 33, March 5, 2 p.m.,19 and previous telegraphic exchanges repeated from Paris and London.

A voluminous document prepared by the Secretariat for the use of members of the Raw Materials Committee (and thus technically confidential) under the heading “Under Guarantee in Virtue of International Treaties” contains the following:

“The ‘open door’ policy as an autonomous policy has thus undergone very serious modifications. In the African territories where this liberal regime still obtains, it is maintained in virtue of contractual obligations: in equatorial Africa (Congo Basin) in virtue of the Berlin Act of 188520—revised by the Brussels declaration of 189021 and by the Convention of Saint Germain en-Laye of 191922—in Morocco under the Act of Algeciras of 1906;23 in French West Africa, Nigeria, and the Gold Coast (Nigeria Basin), under the Franco-British Convention of 1908.24 Even in regard to these territories, however, there is a tendency in the countries concerned to abolish the ‘open door’ regime. In the countries to which the system is still applicable there are increasing complaints of the difficulties which it causes, in particular the obligation to admit unreservedly to their colonies goods from all countries enjoying the benefits of the ‘open door’, while they themselves cannot dispose of their products in those countries. This it is claimed leads to very unsatisfactory situations; the colonies in question are showing heavy adverse trade balances. As a result the revision of the Niger Basin Convention of 1908 is now proceeding.

The Economic Conference of France and French overseas territories which met in Paris between December, 1934, and April, 1936, to consider the possibility of closer economic union between France and her colonies, on the lines of the Ottawa Agreements,25 proclaimed that France should release herself from conventions which provide for the ‘open door’ in Morocco and the Congo Basin and should support the colonies in social, administrative, economic and financial matters in return for customs preference for her own products”.

In response to an inquiry at the Secretariat I encounter assertions that the Saint Germain Convention will not be discussed in the first [Page 811] meeting of the Committee as all “political questions” will be avoided. The circumstances that British Secretariat officials particularly stress this leads me definitely to believe that it is a direct reflection of London’s attitude.

The position of the Secretariat is that the first meeting the Committee will be brief and that extended general discussion will be avoided, any consideration of the substance of the question to await a second meeting possibly in May. The British assert, however, that a second meeting should not take place until after the next regular Assembly in the autumn. The reason for this more or less expressed is that it is hoped that by that time Italy will have returned to the League and that London will have come to cooperative terms with Berlin.

The Polish Minister called on me yesterday and asked if I thought political questions, especially those relating to colonies would come up in the Committee. He inquired, it seemed to me most disingenuously, whether I thought the American member would raise such questions. I have replied that as far as I knew Poland had had more to say about colonies than any state associated with the Committee. I am inclined to feel that with special reference to Berlin, Poland and Japan are to be particularly considered in this connection.

Present prospects respecting the work of the Committee derived from the Secretariat evoke strong expressions of dissatisfaction by representatives of states here not associated with the Committee who assert the position of certain powers is nugatory to any accomplishments by the Committee. They hold that any discussion which goes to the root of the raw materials question must consider aspects which are being labeled “political” and that this was true from the beginning and should have been foreseen.

Whether “political” discussion actually takes place in the Committee remains to be seen.

Nothing can be known until Committee members arrive and presumably until the Committee is under way. That “political” questions lie in the background of the entire matter has, however, been obvious from its inception. Consulate’s No. 520, dated December 17, 4 p.m.,26

I have thought it best not to display undue interest in the Saint Germain Convention, in my inquiries mentioned above having merely mentioned this item among others appearing in the Secretariat document. I have felt that it would be unwise to display such interest particularly in advance of the question arising in the Committee with special regard to the conditions under which it might be initiated.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Signed February 26, 1885, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. lxxvi, p. 4
  3. Signed July 2, 1890, ibid., vol. lxxxii, p. 55, and Malloy, Treaties, 1776–1909, vol. ii, p. 1964.
  4. Signed September 10, 1919, Foreign Relations, 1928, vol. i, p. 437.
  5. Signed April 7, 1906, ibid., 1906, pt. 2, p. 1495.
  6. Signed at Paris, September 19, 1907, approved April 3, 1908; British and Foreign State Papers, vol. ci, p. 763.
  7. Economic agreements between the United Kingdom and members of the British Commonwealth, signed at Ottawa, August 20, 1932; ibid., vol. cxxxv, pp. 161 ff.
  8. Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. i, p. 483.