841.01 Imperial Conference (1937)/35: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Bingham ) to the Secretary of State

304. In the course of luncheon conversation Norman Robertson46 of the Canadian delegation made the following comments to a Secretary of this Embassy who has known him for some time, on the understanding that they should receive the same confidential treatment that had been accorded his talks with Mr. Armour: Robertson indicated that he was slightly less optimistic now that he had come nearer the practical details. In the first place he saw the British Cabinet changes as presenting an adverse factor; Baldwin47 had always somewhat apologized for tariffs and even his references to preferences were anything but unthinkingly wholehearted. On the other hand his successor Chamberlain worshipped the memory of his father and attached emotional significance to his father’s preference system. Furthermore, the contemplated change at the Board of Trade meant at worst that Runciman would be replaced by a hard boiled Tory and at best Runciman would be unwilling to be active in fathering a policy he would not be able to rear.

Secondly Robertson elaborated on the difficulty of the Canadian position particularly the fact that any concessions they were called upon to make for the benefit of an Anglo-American trade agreement could not be submerged in a revision of an Anglo-Canadian agreement; that members of the Canadian Government would have to return to Ottawa worse than empty handed having given up certain preferences the value of which 3 months ago they emphasized when the Anglo-Canadian trade agreement was ratified. In this connection Robertson said that his understanding of its position was that we did not wish to have a discussion of the particular Ottawa items incident to an Anglo-American trade agreement precede the enumeration of an Empire declaration for principle. However, the Canadian delegation [Page 33] felt itself in a somewhat difficult position for if it took the initiative in obtaining such a declaration it would be in effect writing the British a blank check and they thought that the British might be awaiting just such a development. On the other hand, they would not object to taking the initiative provided they knew in advance what it entailed in practical concessions. It was obvious that Robertson did not know what the British reply to the American memorandum contained although I gather that Ambassador Lindsay had given Mackenzie King personally and confidentially “without any strings attached” a copy of the American memorandum. Robertson did vouchsafe that he did not see how Canada could make all the concessions contemplated in the American memorandum and on the other hand he remarked that he was surprised at the omission of one or two items, in particular wheat. The Liberal Government was on record as being opposed to the wheat preference; Australia he felt would be willing to give it up and although it antagonized the Maritime provinces it would stop the thorny transshipment questions which would please Buffalo and other interests. At the same time the removal of a duty preference on one of the essential foodstuffs should make a good impression throughout the world. In this connection reference is made to the British suggestion, last sentence first paragraph my 234, April 21, 6 p.m.

  1. Economic expert, Canadian Department of External Affairs.
  2. Stanley Baldwin, British Prime Minister, 1935–1937. On May 28, 1937, Neville Chamberlain became British Prime Minister.