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National Affairs: Goodwill in the Pampas

3 minute read

Biggest open link in Franklin Roosevelt’s chain of Good Neighbors in the Western Hemisphere has been Argentina. For five years Mr. Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull have patiently, persistently struggled to overcome: 1) Argentina’s historic dominance by Great Britain, 2) Argentine fears of U. S. imperialism, 3) Argentine insistence that the U. S. lift its 1930 ban on imports of pampas beef, 4) Argentina’s across-the-table system of bilateral trade, 5) Argentina’s able, egotistic Foreign Minister, Saavedra Lamas.

Two old friends long ago went to work to climb these big hurdles, many lesser ones. For the U. S.—glacial Sumner Welles, the high-domed Acting Secretary, and once Embassy Secretary to Argentina (1917-19); for Argentina—Señor Don Felipe Alberto Espil, the raven-haired Argentine Ambassador to the U. S., who wears his white-tie-&-tails with the nonchalance of Fred Astaire, who was once the Duchess of Windsor’s constant dancing partner, whose barber lets no sign of his 52 years show around the ears.*

Messrs. Roosevelt, Hull & Welles wanted a U. S.-Argentina reciprocal trade agreement. So, to shrewd, praise-loving Lamas, Franklin Roosevelt kowtowed with impressive pomp at Buenos Aires in 1936; at Lima in 1938.†

Many a time Señor Espil trotted into Cordell Hull’s paper-cluttered office. But more often he went to the cool gardens of Oxon Hill, Maryland, where poised Mr. Welles lives like an English squire. There they talked ways & means of climbing hurdles One to Five, especially how to convince Espil’s boss, Minister Lamas, that with the U. S., not Great Britain, lay Argentina’s future.

But historically, commercially, Argentina has been a British supply house. Great Britain has $2,000,000,000 invested in the Argentine (the U. S. about $700,000,000); the British own the biggest Argentine railroad; have customarily taken 40% of all Argentine exports. But where blandishments failed, disillusionment succeeded. Not Munich, but the cash register, disillusioned Senor Lamas, who saw that Britain was steadily shifting its agricultural trade to its colonies, that the Argentine was being set up only as a great emergency storehouse for wartime food supplies.

Last week the denouement came when

Argentina suddenly changed its trade system to one of import control, freezing foreign exports to Argentina at 1934-36 levels, then setting import quotas. With this Argentina shift toward multilateral trade, Sumner Welles in Washington and Minister Lamas in Buenos Aires could announce with good grace a proposed trade agreement.

Argentina, world’s greatest cattle exporter, had given way at last on its beef. The U. S. still will not import fresh, chilled or frozen meat from the pampas, in deference to the ire of U. S. cattlemen, already roused by Franklin Roosevelt’s crack that Argentine corned beef at 9¢ a pound is superior food for U. S. sailors to the home product at 24¢ a pound.

U. S. concessions to the Argentine will come on canned, cured and dogfood meats, linseed, flaxseed, grapes, pears, coarse wools. Hearings for domestic producers will begin October 16, announced Sumner Welles happily.

*Ambassador Espil is one of Washington’s handsomest three diplomats. Other two: Finnish Minister Hjalmar Procope, 50; Polish Ambassador Count Jerzy Potocki, 50.

†The Inter-American Peace Conference of 1936 was held at Buenos Aires to flatter Argentina; Lamas was made conference president to flatter him; Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Hull paid him special tribute; but in both conferences Lamas accepted homage smoothly, cleverly spiked all efforts to bind the 21 Republics in a solid group of cooperating nations, sent Hull home with finely worded, empty documents.

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