The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

No. 4392

Sir: Referring to the Department’s instruction No. 1134 of December 26, 193960 (File No. 648T.006/12) directing this Mission to bring to the attention of the appropriate British authorities certain considerations respecting American commercial rights in Kenya and other East African areas and the effect thereon of recent British import licensing and exchange control measures, I have the honor [Page 119] to report that the subject was yesterday discussed with Mr. Nigel B. Ronald, Chief of the General Department of the British Foreign Office. There was also left with him a copy of the enclosed aide-mémoire. At the same time he was informed of the inquiry made by the Japanese Embassy in Washington and of the Department’s reply to that Mission.61

Mr. Ronald said that he was unable at the moment to indicate the precise position but that the general problem of the control of imports in the British colonies and mandates was being given active consideration at this time. The Japanese Government, he said, had approached the British Government on the subject, as he recalled, about the end of November. The Italian Government had also touched on the matter.

Speaking informally, Mr. Ronald said that the problem was one of the availability of exchange. The relative position of exports and imports and the resultant excess of exchange or the lack of it necessarily had an influence. With Great Britain engaged in a life and death struggle, it was necessarily obliged to use its exchange resources as effectively as it could. To his inquiry as to the American attitude the reply was made that in the past the United States Government had on a number of occasions strongly urged the view that measures rendering access to markets contingent on the relative position of bilateral trade balances were discriminatory.

Mr. Ronald indicated that as soon as the study now being made of the general question brought up in the Embassy’s aide-mémoire had progressed to a conclusion, the Foreign Office would be glad to give the Embassy a considered answer.

Respectfully yours,

Herschel V. Johnson

The American Embassy to the British Foreign Office


The attention of the United States Department of State in Washington has been called to the entry into effect on November 15, 1939 of a system of licensing and control of imports in the Colony of Kenya, British East Africa, under which licenses and foreign exchange permits are required, with certain exceptions, for all American products entering the colony. Essentially the same type of import and exchange control is understood to have been introduced in all the territories of British East Africa. It is reported, moreover, that applications to import American products are being disapproved in the [Page 120] majority of cases, while those applications which are approved encounter considerable delay.

The Governments of Great Britain and the United States, it will be recalled, are among the signatories to the Congo Basin Convention signed at St. Germain-en-Laye on September 10, 1919,63 Article 2 of which provides that merchandise belonging to nationals of the Signatory Powers shall have free access to the interior of a specific region in Africa and that no differential treatment shall be imposed on such merchandise on importation or exportation. The import permit requirements and exchange control which have been established in the specified region, apparently without the consent of the Signatory Powers to the St. Germain-en-Laye Convention, not only seem to overlook the right of free access but to involve discriminatory treatment of American goods. These regulations are therefore, in the opinion of the Department, clearly inconsistent with the provisions of Article 2 mentioned above.

It is also the opinion of the Department of State that, in so far as the mandated territory of Tanganyika is concerned, the new regulations are inconsistent with the provisions of Article 7 of the Mandate, to the benefits of which the United States and its nationals are entitled under the terms of the American-British Convention signed at London on February 10, 1925.64 The Department is now studying the effect of recent measures taken by the British authorities in other British territories, including those under British mandate, in Africa and in western Asia, and may wish to address a communication on that subject to the British Government at a later date.

Meanwhile the United States Government confidently expects that the British Government will recognize the right of American merchandise to enter British East Africa freely and without discriminatory treatment under the Congo Basin Convention, and, in view of the serious adverse effect which the regulations may be expected to have on American trade, that appropriate steps will be promptly taken to this end.

  1. Not printed.
  2. For text of the inquiry from the Japanese Embassy, dated November 25, 1939, see Foreign Relations, 1939, vol. ii, p. 320; no record of reply found in Department files.
  3. Foreign Relations, 1928, vol. i, p. 437.
  4. Ibid., 1925, vol. ii, p. 203.