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THE PAN-AMERICAN FINANCIAL CONFERENCES AND
THE INTER-AMERICAN HIGH COMMISSION
BY JOHN BASSETT MOORE
Vice-Chairman of the Inter-American High Commission and
Vice-President of its Central Executive Council
On March 12, 1915, while the Great War, daily increasing in intensity, was drawing the world more and more into its vortex, the American Governments were, in the name of the President of the United States, invited to send delegates to a conference with the Secretary of the Treasury, at Washington, with a view to establish “closer and more satisfactory financial relations between the American Republics." To this end it was intimated that the conference would discuss not only problems of banking, but also problems of transportation and of commerce. It thus came about that there assembled in Washington on Monday, May 24, 1915, under the chairmanship of the Honorable William G. McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury, the first Pan-American Financial Conference.
The subjects submitted to the conference embraced public finance, the monetary situation, the existing banking system, the financing of public improvements and of private enterprises, the extension of interAmerican markets, the merchant marine and improved facilities of transportation. It was a program that went beyond the emergencies growing out of the war; and the conference in its deliberations did not confine itself to the adoption of temporary devices. On the contrary, it sought to meet a permanent need by establishing an organization which should devote itself to the carrying out of a task whose importance was not to be measured by temporary conditions, whether of war or of peace.
The formulation of the program of future work was entrusted to the Committee on Uniformity of Laws relating to Trade and Commerce and the Adjustment of International Commercial Disputes. The report of this committee, while reserving for separate and distinct treatment the difficult and complex problems of transportation, recommended that the following subjects should be specially pressed :
1. The establishment of a gold standard of value.
3. Uniform (a) classification of merchandise, (b) customs regulations, (c) consular certificates and invoices, (d) port charges.
4. Uniform regulations for commercial travelers.
5. Measures for the protection of trade-marks, patents, and copyrights.
6. The establishment of a uniform low rate of postage and of charges for money-orders and parcels-post between the American countries.
7. The extension of the process of arbitration for the adjustment of commercial disputes.
For the purpose of dealing with these subjects, and particularly for bringing about uniformity of laws concerning them, the committee recommended that the independent American countries establish an Inter-American High Commission, to which each country should contribute a section. To this end each Minister of Finance, or, in the United States, the Secretary of the Treasury, was to appoint not more than nine persons, residents of the country, who, with himself as ex officio chairman, should constitute the national section, the aggregate of these sections constituting the Commission. The advantages of this plan were obvious. As the national sections, composed of citizens of the respective countries, and headed each by a cabinet minister, were in immediate relations with their governments and could deal with them directly, the work of the international body could by this means be carried on continuously and in all the countries at once, without suspicion of intrusiveness or suggestion of impropriety, and also without the complications, perplexities and delays which circuitous methods and absorbing formalities tend to engender. The recommendations of the committee were unanimously adopted, and the Inter-American High Commission came into being.
The conference further resolved that the local members of the
1 In fact, the title "International High Commission” was then used; but, as "Inter-American High Commission,” which is more accurate, has since been substituted for it, I use the latter throughout this paper, so as to avoid the perpetuation of a discarded title.
Inter-American High Commission should be immediately appointed in their respective countries; that they should at once begin preparatory work; that the various governments should be requested through their appropriate departments to coöperate in the work of the Commission; and that the members of the United States Section should, as soon as practicable, proceed to visit the other American countries to meet the members of the Commission there resident. The establishment of the Inter-American High Commission was a measure of the greatest practical significance.
In 1889, there met at Washington the first of the assemblies known as the International American Conferences, of which four have so far taken place, and of which the fifth, but for the outbreak of the war in 1914, would long since have been held. Although the first of these conferences encountered criticism and even derision, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find any one today who would either censure their spirit and purpose or deny their beneficent effects. The good results accomplished by them could hardly be overestimated. They undoubtedly blazed the way for the numerous other conferences, scientific, educational and economic, in whose proceedings the progress of Pan-Americanism during the past three decades is recorded. But the International American Conferences had one capital defect: they lacked a permanent organization to carry on their work. Hence, after they adjourned, the excellent and far-reaching plans which they had incorporated in treaties, conventions and resolutions, often lapsed and remained unexecuted for want of a continuous and permanent body to follow them up and attend to their ratification, application and development. The want of such a body in our inter-American relations was supplied by the creation of the Inter-American High Commission, the United States Section of which was legislatively sanctioned by the Act of Congress of February 7, 1916.
In conformity with the resolutions of the first Pan-American Financial Conference, the United States Section in due time proceeded to Buenos Aires, where, in April, 1916, the Inter-American High Commission held its first general meeting, under the presidency of the Hon. Francisco J. Oliver, Argentine Minister of Finance. All the national sections of the Commission were represented at this meeting, more than seventy of its members being in attendance. Nothing could more clearly attest the general interest felt in the work or the universal appreciation of its practical importance.
At Buenos Aires the Commission, besides dealing with the subjects designated by the first Pan-American Financial Conference for special treatment, also included in its deliberations the question of international agreements on uniform labor legislation; uniformity of regulations governing the classification and analysis of petroleum and other mineral fuels with reference to national development policies; the necessity of better transportation facilities between the American Republics; banking facilities, the extension of credit, the financing of public and private enterprises, and the stabilization of international exchange; telegraphic facilities and rates, and the use of wireless telegraphy for commercial purposes; and uniformity of laws for the protection of merchant creditors.
At Buenos Aires the Inter-American High Commission also took an important step in the further development of an effective organization. This was done by the creation of a common organ or agency, called the Central Executive Council, consisting of a president, a vice-president, a secretary-general, and an assistant secretary-general; and as Washington was unanimously designated as the headquarters of the Commission till its next general meeting, the chairman, the vice-chairman, and the secretary of the United States Section thus became the Central Executive Council, with the responsibility of supervising, coördinating and carrying on the Commission's work.
The work has been steadily and energetically pressed. Valuable publications, intended to elucidate and support the measures which the Commission has in charge, have been prepared, printed, and circulated, and appreciable progress has been made in securing the adoption of those measures. In these activities the Central Executive Council has had the intelligent, hearty and efficient coöperation of the several national sections, which have, in many instances, made admirable studies of the subjects under consideration.
Substantial ameliorations of methods of customs administration have been secured in various quarters. Regulations permitting sanitary visits outside regular hours, the simultaneous loading and unloading of cargoes, and the advance preparation of cargoes, have been brought about in numerous countries. Progress has been made with the adoption of a uniform statistical classification of merchandise, as recommended by the Inter-American High Commission at Buenos Aires. Six countries have already taken favorable action, and two more are understood to be on the point of so doing. Every effort
has been made to advance uniform legislation in regard to bills of exchange, checks, bills of lading, and warehouse receipts, and appropriate documentary material has been prepared and circulated on those topics.
In dealing with the subject of bills of exchange, the Inter-American High Commission, taking into consideration the legal conceptions generally prevailing in the American countries other than the United States, and the opinions of their leading jurists, decided to recommend to those countries the adoption of The Hague Rules of 1912, with certain modifications. This decision has been justified by the results. Already The Hague Rules have been substantially incorporated in the codes of Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and in the new commercial code of Venezuela; and measures of like purport have been introduced in at least four other countries. We seem to be rapidly approaching the time when, so far as concerns bills of exchange, there will, in effect, be only two systems in use in the Western Hemisphere, based, respectively, on The Hague Rules of 1912 and the United States Negotiable Instruments Act of 1916.
A bill has been introduced in the Congress of Uruguay to incorporate into the Commercial Code the tentative Hague Rules of 1912 in regard to checks. The new Venezuelan Commercial Code of December 19, 1919, incorporated these rules. In the Congresses of Argentina and Nicaragua, measures have been introduced similar to the United States Bills of Lading Act. The Commission has also been glad to observe a growing interest in the adoption of uniform legislation on the subject of warehouse receipts, as well as on that of conditional sales. The Peruvian Congress has lately enacted a law on the former subject, substantially based on the Uniform Warehouse Receipts Act in the United States, and a similar step has been under discussion in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Increased interest in conditional sales legislation has notably been shown in Argentina, Brazil and the United States.
During the war, constant efforts were made by the Inter-American High Commission, largely through the Central Executive Council, acting in coöperation with the various national sections, to relieve the burdens and inconveniences arising out of the conflict, as regards transportation and other matters. Of those efforts, no detail can now be given. It is necessary on the present occasion to limit the rebearsal of the Commission's activities chiefly to measures of a com