The Belgian Ambassador (Van der Straten-Ponthoz) to the Secretary of State

D. 7115
No. 411

Mr. Secretary of State: Your Excellency is not unaware that a convention was concluded, on July 29, 1937, between France and Great Britain13 whereby the last mentioned Power renounces, particularly, the capitulations in the French zone of Morocco.

In letters annexed to the said Convention, the two Governments desirous of revising the Anglo-Moroccan Treaty of Commerce of December 9, 1856, declare that they are in agreement to open negotiations in order to establish the commercial relations between Morocco and Great Britain on new bases in conformity with the respective economic interests of the Contracting Parties.

As a consequence of this undertaking, negotiations were opened between the two States and, if I am correctly informed, they are being actively continued.

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The Anglo-Moroccan Treaty of Commerce and Navigation of December 9, 1856 forms the basis of the customs statute of Morocco, as, with the Hispano-Moroccan Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation of March 1, 179914 and November 20, 1861,15 and the German-Moroccan Treaty of June 1, 1890,16 it subjected imports to a uniform customs duty which cannot exceed 10 percent ad valorem. This régime has been extended to many other Powers by Conventions assuring to them the most-favored-nation treatment, (particularly the Belgian-Moroccan Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, signed at Tangier, January 4, 186217).

To this fixed duty of 10 percent, which has become of general application, Article 66 of the Act of Algeciras added a duty of 2½ percent ad valorem destined to form a special fund for public works.

The delegates of the Powers at Algeciras had at first rejected all the requests of the Maghzen18 seeking an increase of the 10 percent duty. The preparatory labors and the debates of the conference show clearly that the negotiators meant to consolidate the customs system of Morocco, that is, to include the same tariff in the system which they were instituting.

Up to recent years it was, therefore, universally admitted that the fixed 10 percent duty formed a part of the régime guaranteed by the Act of Algeciras and that it could not be changed except with the assent of all the Powers signatory to the said Act and which had retained the benefit thereof.

It was in 1934 that the French Government, desiring to change the Moroccan customs tariff,19 maintained that it could do so by negotiating with those Powers only which had with Morocco a commercial tariff treaty (that is, to say, Great Britain and Spain). To this end it entered into conversations with the British Government. At the same time it was negotiating with other Powers which were parties to the Act of Algeciras, and especially with Belgium, to obtain the right to fix quotas on goods to be imported into Morocco: it admitted, in fact, that this required the assent of all the Powers benefiting from the Act of Algeciras. At that time my Government made the observation that the reform of the customs tariff, as well as the establishment of quotas in Morocco, should be made subject to our assent. This double negotiation was not at that time brought to a successful conclusion. It is permissible to believe that this fact was due to the resistance which the French Government encountered on the part of several Powers, and particularly, Belgium and the United States.

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The Government of the Republic is, therefore, renewing its 1934 project in its present negotiations with Great Britain. According to my information, these are the main points of the program which it hopes to make prevail:

Establishment of a new customs tariff in Morocco. This tariff would include duties which would vary with the goods; certain rates would noticeably exceed the present rate;
Right to establish quotas for the entry of certain goods into Morocco;
Exchanges between Morocco and foreign countries would be based on the principle of reciprocity.

Your Excellency will doubtless understand that the accomplishment of such a project would gravely affect the favorable international régime from which foreign Powers benefit in the Sheriffian empire. Accordingly, as the King’s Government could not remain insensible to this danger, it pointed out to the French and British Governments that Belgium, even while desiring to facilitate the task of France in Morocco and permit her to adjust the economic régime of that country to the present situation, deems that Belgium is entitled to participate in the preparation of any new tariff.

I have been charged by my Government to bring the foregoing to Your Excellency’s knowledge and to ask you what attitude the United States Government expects to take in the matter. I thank you in advance for any communication you may be good enough to make to me.

I will add that I have already previously had conversations with high officials of Your Excellency’s Department, concerning the intention of France to establish, in accord with Great Britain, certain quotas and rate increases.

I asked them at that time what the point of view of the Washington Government was on the question. They answered that the United States would not consent to the establishment of quotas because such a measure was in opposition to the “open door” policy and to its economic policy. However, the United States would not oppose a reasonable increase of customs duties in so far as it has an exclusively fiscal purpose.

I avail myself [etc.]

R. v. Straten
  1. For text, see British Cmd. 5646 (1938): Convention for the Abolition of Capitulations in Morocco and Zanzibar, or British Cmd. 5538, Miscellaneous No. 7 (1937): Convention for the Abolition of Capitulations in Morocco and Zanzibar.
  2. Geo. Fréd. de Martens, Recueil des principaux traités d’alliance, de paix, de trêve … depuis 1761 jusqu’a présent (A. Gottingue, 1829), 2d ed., vol. vi, p. 580.
  3. British and Foreign State Papers, vol. liii, p. 1089.
  4. Ibid, vol. lxxxii, p. 968.
  5. Ibid., vol. c, p. 711.
  6. An Arabic term signifying the Sherifian Government.
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1934, vol. ii, pp. 836 ff.