Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Moffat)

Mr. Keith Officer called to see me this afternoon, very much disturbed by a telegram he had received from Canberra following Mr. Wilson’s visit. The telegram indicated that the Australian Government was more than disappointed at the non-cooperative attitude of the American Government in continuing to insist, after all the concessions which Australia has made to meet the American viewpoint, on further assurances regarding the removal of discriminations on the few items still restricted. The telegram which Mr. Officer read to me, though he did not leave a copy, clearly showed that the offer confused continued restrictions with continued discriminations. Going further the telegram said that the time element was so important and that it was imperative to start informal, confidential discussions to find a basis of agreement with the least possible delay.

Mr. Officer then made an earnest plea that we withdraw our condition that there be no further discrimination before starting talks. He said that it was vital not only to the success of the Australian-American trade treaty, but even to the success of the U. S.–U. K. treaty. He repeated to me that there had been the most violent opposition in Cabinet to yield any preference in the British market to facilitate a U. S.–U. K. agreement, and that it had only been “put over” on the expressed conviction of the majority that an American-Australian trade treaty was a real possibility. Acting on my advice he had persuaded Sir Ronald not to come down and present a pretty strong request from the Australian Government to Mr. Hull. He, himself, had believed that his Government could meet our request for definite assurances, and was frankly concerned at the trend things were taking. “Could we not find a formula to meet Canberra’s preoccupation? Could we not commence informal talks at once, with the understanding, [Page 124] of course, that no formal announcement could be made until after the ‘de-black listing’ had been completed?”

I told Mr. Officer that I was more disappointed than he at the nature of his telegram; I had felt that we had met them more than half way; we were offering to overlook the fact that they would still refuse us intermediate rates which they had granted to other powers, while expecting us to grant them such rates; that we had explained to them repeatedly that it was not the continued restrictions we objected to, but the continued application of discrimination in allocating licenses in the restricted items; that while we were gratified with the action taken to date by Australia, nonetheless, the removing of part of a grave injustice against us did not in itself constitute a concession. As a matter of fact we never understood why certain authorities at Canberra refused to believe us when we said that we could not discuss trade agreements in any way with Australia while she continued to discriminate against us; even as late as Mr. Wilson’s visit to Canberra, early in December,9 Mr. Moore10 had still tried to argue this point.

Mr. Officer tried to maneuver me at least into a firm promise that if they gave us the assurances we asked for, we would then immediately start discussions to see whether a basis for agreement was to be found. This I declined to do and suggested that we await the receipt of Mr. Wilson’s telegram before going any further. Then he and Sir Ronald could decide what the latter wanted to do. Mr. Officer said that Sir Ronald would probably be more firm in his representations on behalf of a dominion government than he would on behalf of the U. K. Government. He also told me that Mr. Chalkley11 felt that there was a great deal in the commonwealth point of view and that possibly one difficulty was that certain promises had been made in the allocation of licenses in certain items between now and mid-March, which the Government felt unable or unwilling to go back on.

Pierrepont Moffat
  1. See telegram of December 8, 1937, from the Consul General at Sydney, Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. ii, p. 152.
  2. A. C. Moore, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Trade and Customs of Australia.
  3. H. O. Chalkley, Commercial Counselor of the British Embassy in the United States.