Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened March, 1976
Oral History Interview with
May 25, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie
RICHARD D. MCKINZIE: Ambassador Brown, I wonder if you might say something about how you came into Government service, and tell something about the formative forces on your thinking about international economic affairs before you entered the Government?
WINTHROP G. BROWN: I came down to Washington on a temporary assignment in June of 1941. I had been practicing law and was a partner in a law firm in New York. But things got so in the middle of 1941 that just moving money from one guy's pocket to another in New York seemed pretty dull compared to what was going on in the world. And I
came down to Washington to look for a job, and was recommended to go to Oscar Cox.
Oscar Cox I'd known when he was representing the City of New York, and I was representing the New York Telephone Company and we'd had a litigation together and I gained a great respect for his abilities; and he at that time was Harry Hopkins' lawyer, and was one of the initiators of the lend-lease legislation. I got down there, I think it was just after the Lend-Lease Act was passed. We had the Lend-Lease Act, which was a brief statute, and four people or five people in Oscar's office, and a seven billion dollar appropriation, and the problem was how do you put it to work? And that was when I started out.
After a few months Governor [Averell] Harriman wanted an assistant in London, and I applied for that job and got it, and went over to work with him in November of 1941, and stayed there with his mission and his successors, Philip Reed, and Amory Houghton, and others, until May of 1945 when the war in Europe was over.
That's a fascinating story in itself.
MCKINZIE: I wonder if you might dwell for a moment on some of your experience in London, particularly anything you might have had to do with the postwar planning that took place between the United States and the British Commonwealth?
BROWN: I had practically nothing to do with that. Harriman's job ostensibly was to coordinate lend-lease operations in shipping and the productive capacity of the different Allied countries to bring the maximum effect on the war. He also, of course, was much more of a direct political contact between Mr. [Franklin D.] Roosevelt, and Mr. Hopkins, and Mr. [Winston] Churchill than Ambassador Winant ever was. Those of us who worked for him (young fellows) didn't know anything about foreign service or anything. We thought we were really pretty superior to these poor old fellows downstairs in the Embassy who just did dull things, and we were really dealing with the problems of the war.
I'm not an economist -- never have been -- and I was certainly not knowledgeable in finance. So I didn't get into the Bretton Woods complex which was the most important, of course, of the immediate postwar plans. I did hear a lot about plans for the Food and Agriculture Organization. Some of my friends in the British Government were interested in that, but I really had no direct part in that.
In '45, I guess it was, or late '44 I met a fellow named Harry Hawkins, whom you undoubtedly know about. He was Mr. Cordell Hull's right-hand man in trade agreements. He had a vision of a postwar world in which tariffs and trade barriers would be reduced, and there would be an international institution which would bring order into international trade and provide a forum for settlement of disputes; which would generally aid in international cooperation in trade expansion. I found that a very exciting idea. I had always planned to go back to the practice of the law in New York where I was very
happy, but this was pretty interesting and Harry got me a job as Chief of the Division of Commercial Policy in the State Department.
MCKINZIE: You met him when he came to London?
BROWN: Yes. He was the economic minister or counselor in the embassy in London, I think, beginning in either late '44 or the beginning of '45. So he got me this job and I was then a bachelor and I accepted it. I went in in June, I think, of 1945, and I didn't know a tariff from a toothbrush at that point. Well, at that time the people in the Division of Commercial Policy, who were really quite a remarkable group of people, had developed an idea, which was very revolutionary, and that was the idea of a multilateral tariff negotiation.
MCKINZIE: Do you happen to know the influence, let's say, of Harry Hawkins upon this idea?
BROWN: Oh, yes. We had about thirty trade agreements.
The shortest time that it had taken to do a major agreement, say with the British or the Canadians, up to that time was eighteen months. The proposal that Harry and his young assistants -- such people as John Leddy and Leonard Weiss, Marc [Honoré M.] Catudal -- were putting forward involved negotiating with eighteen countries at the same time. And not only that, but having each of them negotiate with each of the other, so that you would have a total of well over a hundred separate bilateral negotiations going at once. This was regarded by many of the experts, and most of the senior old-timers in the different Government agencies besides the Department, as being "nuts, and quite impossible." But Harry didn't think so, and John Leddy didn't think so, and for whatever value a newcomer's opinion had, I didn't think so either. The thing was going along pretty well and that was the first thing that I had to do. I don't know whose idea it was originally, but the real
moving spirits were Harry Hawkins and John Leddy. And they were supported in that -- I've forgotten who the Secretary was at the time.
MCKINZIE: [Edward R., Jr.] Stettinius. He was Secretary through the San Francisco Conference.
BROWN: Well, anyhow, Harry Hawkins was the senior civil servant who knew about this and he pushed it forward. It was supported upstairs, although there was no great problem about it at first. So, we got started on this thing, and John Leddy and his boys worked out the mechanics of how you do it, and we got the go-ahead from the White House. I was not familiar how that was accomplished or what went on, but anyhow, it was moving when I got there.
My first assignment was to chair the Trade Agreements Committee, which was the committee of the different departments -- Tariff Commission, Commerce Department, Labor Department, Defense Department, Agriculture Department, State
Department, and the Treasury, which recommended to the President what items in the tariff should be reduced and what requests should be made for reductions by the other countries. So we sat down and we went to work -- organized a group for each of the countries involved, and they all got together to prepare lists. This went along fairly smoothly, and then we put the lists to the Trade Agreements Committee and debated it back and forth, and finally came to an agreement on what should be recommended. What tariffs should be reduced, how much, what tariffs should be bound against increase, and what should have nothing done with them, and then what we should ask for from each of the other countries? Well, it was quite a remarkable activity, because a lot of those agencies, Agriculture and Tariff, were pretty conservative in terms of tariff reduction. This list included almost all the sensitive items that you could possibly have -- wool, and feathers, and turkeys, and lace, and toys, and things of that kind. There were sharp
differences of opinion. Nevertheless, we came out and at the end of the day, as I remember, we were able to put up to our superiors recommendations which were agreed, except in about twenty-five cases.
MCKINZIE: On twenty-five commodities.
BROWN: Yes. Out of about five thousand that we proposed to reduce, and about eight thousand that we proposed to ask for reduction. When we got the list ready, and before we came to any conclusions, under the law it was our responsibility to hold public hearings. That was one of the reasons why the old-timers said it was impossible to do this, because you simply couldn't have hearings on that number of items which would mean anything all conducted by this one little group of people. I'll never forget, I was sitting at home one Sunday afternoon and Norman Burns, who worked on the stuff, called up, and he said, "I've been working on this public list. For the first time I've got all the
different parts put together, and," he said, "We just can't publish it. The country won't take it."
And I said, "What do you mean?"
"Well," he said, "let me show you." So he brought these things out to the house, and it was a formidable volume. I mean, there were just pages, and pages, and pages full of items. It really looked as though we were changing damn near the whole tariff law of the United States by this little committee of ours, you know, by executive action. Well, I said, "Norman, can't we do some window dressing? Can't we just have broad categories or have a broad category and then group little things underneath it? Can't we do something that makes it look shorter?" So, he took his hat and he went off, and the experts got to work on it. They worked for about a week on the darn thing, and then they came back and said, "There is no way that you can conceal the fact that we are proposing reductions or bindings in over 80 percent of the whole United
States tariff, all to be done at once."
So, I said, "Well, look, since we can't hide it let's make a virtue out of it." One of the lists that the experts worked on in the committee was the list in technical tariff terminology. But there was also a Department of Commerce list, which reflected the tariffs and identified imports and in, more or less, comprehensible layman's language.
So, I said, "Let's hide the bulk of this thing by making it even bulkier. Let's publish it in both languages." So we finally put out the list in the technical language, and then, "for the assistance of the reader," the same list in the Commerce Department bulletin language, which was more comprehensible. We still worried about this. The meeting was set for April of '47, and there was an election in there.
MCKINZIE: Well, in November of '46 there was a congressional election.
BROWN: November '46. We did defer publishing the list until after the election; but then we published it and the reaction was not particularly excited -- everybody was amazed. Then they held the hearings and they went on for a few weeks, and they were just marvelous, they were really very interesting. The lace industry came in and complained that they were essential to the management of defense, because they made the shoulder patches on the soldiers' uniforms. And various other industries -- the human hair industry came in -- all its representatives in luxuriant wigs.
MCKINZIE: Did you preside at many?
BROWN: I presided at most of them. We had some panels. I think they had three panels. I presided at one.
MCKINZIE: So you directly then took the heat from the industries.
BROWN: We found some of the testimony persuasive, and
some of it just bilge.
Only one industry came in and said, "We won't, we can't take a cut here, or here, or here; but we could, we won't like it, and we hope it won't happen, but we could accept it here." In that case and whenever there was a suggestion of that kind we would adopt it -- go along with it.
MCKINZIE: What industry was that?
BROWN: The shoe industry.
Well, then that was all accomplished and then we had to decide what our recommendations would be. It was at that time that we went over all the cuts and came out with a report that was then sent upstairs which was unanimous except for about 25 items. And at that point -- my chronology is very bad. I can't remember when Mr. Will Clayton became Under Secretary and when Mr. [Dean] Acheson, Assistant Secretary for...
MCKINZIE: Mr. Acheson was Assistant Secretary for
Economic Affairs until just before the Marshall Plan was passed.
BROWN: '47. Yes. Well, he was there. In this great enterprise we had total support from Dean Acheson and Will Clayton or we couldn't possibly have done all the things we did. I don't think we ever would have got permission to publish the list, if we hadn't had the support of those men.
MCKINZIE: They entered it substantively at that point.
BROWN: They entered it substantively whenever they came in. But I've forgotten -- particularly I've forgotten when Will Clayton was in. But from the moment they got into office they supported this enterprise wholeheartedly. They considered it to be very, very constructive, and without that support, obviously, you never could have done it. I often think how great an influence on public affairs is brought about by some people who will never be known, such as John Leddy, who
ultimately became Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and Assistant Secretary for European Affairs. He came very much to the top. But some of the others who had this idea, and who worked it out and did it, really made a tremendous contribution.
Well, parallel with all of this in the tariff field with all the other related activity going on, because the tariff is obviously only one of the elements in the control of trade -- there are many other elements which are much more difficult and dangerous than the tariff, such things as quotas. The high tariff you can always jump over it if people are willing to pay the price. But the quota imposes a fixed limit. So that it was quite clear that to have a tariff agreement without anything else is no good -- and all the previous trade agreements had some general provisions. So, at the same time we were doing the tariff reductions we were working out the general provisions -- rules that we'd have to adopt about quotas and subsidies -- all kinds of other things like that.
MCKINZIE: Was there talk at this time about full employment and that kind of thing?
BROWN: Again, my memory is extremely bad and my chronology is even worse. At the same time, also I think it was pretty much Harry's idea -- I dont remember -- but, anyhow, we started working on a charter of an international trade organization. The GATT was the tariff part of it, and the other chapters of this five or six chapter document, would have set up a trade organization which would deal not only with tariffs, but also with non-tariff barriers, and international cartels, and commodity agreements. That is about where we would have stopped. But other countries, we knew, were interested in full employment, particularly the Australians and the underdeveloped countries. That, of course, was a subject which would be anathema to the United States Congress because it dealt with internal affairs which they, quite properly, said is no damn business of any other country. But, the underdeveloped countries felt so strongly about the subject that
we talked with them about it. The underdeveloped countries, and particularly the Australians, were just as much interested in those other provisions as they were in tariff. And, in a sense, the quid pro quo for their agreeing to accept the tariff agreement was that we would be working on the other provisions as well. But it was agreed -- and, again, I can't remember how we did it or what time it was -- it was agreed that since the tariffs were there (and they were very concrete) and everybody wanted to go on with them, that we would proceed with the tariff. That having been done, the relevant provisions of the charter relating to other trade barriers obviously had to be put in effect, otherwise you couldn't give any effect to the tariff reductions. So that, the net result was that chapter four, which the one we cared about, was in fact -- I'm jumping ahead -- was in fact put into effect before any of the other provisions of the ITO. And, as you remember, the ITO eventually floundered, because our Congress
wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. And in my opinion, looking back on it, I think that was a hell of a good idea because the ITO would have been a mess. It would have been a futile thing. There was no way you could enforce it, really to put it in practical operation, and it would have had a big bureaucracy. But anyhow we didn't think so at the time; we worked hard on it.
MCKINZIE: Could we go back then to after this was presented to President Truman and you received White House approval of these tariff lists?
BROWN: After we got his approval to publish the lists, and had the hearings, then we made our recommendations as to what the cuts should be; and they were substantial, and they were widespread. Well, the conference was set for April 1947 in Geneva and the time came when we were all ready and we had to get President Truman's final approval for the specific offers. We sent the papers over to the White House showing exactly
what we were proposing and with a covering memorandum, in which I pointed out the twenty to twenty-five politically very sensitive items, like pottery, and glass, and textiles, wool, toys, and turkeys, and several other things. We pointed out that these were likely to cause a great deal of trouble, but we recommended going ahead and doing it. Nevertheless, we thought the President ought to know that he was running a political risk. The day came when the President was ready to see Mr. Clayton and he and Mr. Acheson very, very kindly took me along with them when they went over to the meeting. This is where I really formed my profound admiration for Mr. Truman, because we went into his office, and he'd done his homework. He'd read enough of the papers to know what it was all about. He got the feel of the kind of thing we'd recommended and the way we went about it. He said, "Well, this looks pretty good to me," and we all smiled and said that was grand. And so he said you better go ahead. I don't know
what got into me, and I probably shouldn't have said this because I was still a pretty junior guy. I said, "Mr. President, I'm sure you realize that if you do approve these offers and if we make these cuts there will be a storm of protest all over a large area of the United States, because of these sensitive items."
Now, the President got up from behind his desk and he came around and he said, "I know. But I think that what you are proposing is right and I'm prepared to fight for it. So you go ahead." You can imagine the morale effect it had on all those at this meeting -- it was really something. And he went on to say, "There's a couple of guys from Missouri in my outer office. I know what they want. They want me to put a quota on lead and zinc. That's ridiculous. We haven't got enough lead and zinc in the country. We need more."
Well, the story of the conference is another long story. I had many exciting moments and enjoyable moments.
MCKINZIE: You were the chief negotiator?
BROWN: I was the head technical man -- that is to say for the tariff part of it. John Leddy handled the general provisions and Clair Wilcox, head of the Office of International Trade Policy, (a Swarthmore economics professor, absolutely first class) was my immediate superior. Will Clayton, of course, was the head of the delegation. But I was the active head of all the tariff side of it under Mr. Wilcox.
MCKINZIE: Did a big delegation go over on the same ship?
BROWN: No, we flew over. We had not too big a delegation. We had a negotiator for each country, who was from the State Department. Then we had observers from other agencies for many of the principal negotiations, and, of course, the senior members of the Trade Agreements Committee were all there. We had some congressional advisers, as I remember, and Mr. Clayton, head of the delegation.
Now, I'll give you just one story about the meeting which is not directly relevant to Mr. Truman or to policy, but it shows the kind of thing that happened. Of course, the key to this negotiation was the United States. If we werent going to produce something meaningful in terms of reduction there was no point in negotiations, and this was a perfectly sound estimate of the situation. We debated long and hard as to how we should handle this. Should we put forward our full offers right away and make a generous impression, or should we start out in the traditional bargaining fashion and put out a small offer, and then come out with more in the course of the bargaining. We decided that since the position of the United States was so crucial, and since our offers were pretty good we, would dispense with any horsing around and do our bargaining in what we asked of other countries. So, we convened, and said we were ready to proceed with tabling our offers, if everybody else was going to proceed
with tabling not only their offers with us but their offers to each other. They all said, "Oh well, let's go right ahead with you and we'll see how our negotiations with you go, and then we'll think about negotiating with all the other countries."
Mr. Clayton said, "No, that's not what was agreed. What was agreed was that everybody would negotiate with everybody else if they have any substantial volumes of trade, and we have our offers for every country and we expect you to have your offers for every country."
They said, "Oh, God, that can't be, I mean, we aren't ready to do that. It takes a long time to get all our things ready for the other countries. Let's just go on with you."
Mr. Clayton reached down in his briefcase and he pulled out a big, fat document and he said, "These are the United States offers and we're prepared to put them down -- give them to you -- when you're ready to go ahead as we have agreed and not before," and he put them back in
his briefcase. And they all said, "Oh, it just takes so long, we cant do it."
Mr. Clayton, who had the most radiant smile -- he was a big handsome man -- said, "Well, you know, this is a lovely place here in Geneva and its April, and we havent got anything else to do. Were quite prepared to stay here and enjoy it until you are ready." It is amazing how quickly they got ready. Then he did put down our offers and they did make a good impression, and so the conference got off to a very good start. The mechanics of the different negotiations werent all that difficult, and it all worked out very well.
The most important countries, of course, were the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. Canada was our great supporter. They ran interference, they always took the "Simon Pure" free trade positions and then we would make concessions; but they ran interference, so to speak. They had a remarkable group of people headed by Dana Wilgress, a very great man in my opinion.
Then the British, of course, were important, and the Australians, who somehow or other became the spokesmen for the underdeveloped world, India, Pakistan, etc. India at the beginning, and I've forgotten what the other countries were, but, anyhow, Australia -- they were the full-employment advocates. They were headed up by a fellow named [Dr. Herbert Cole] Coombs, who was a very tough man and a very good man. As far as the Australians were concerned the whole meeting revolved around wool, and we had made no offer for tariff reduction on wool. Not only that, but shortly after we got to Geneva the Congress put a quota on imports of wool, and at that point the Australians practically walked out of the meeting and they would have been entirely justified in doing so.
MCKINZIE: Had your division tried to head this off in time?
BROWN: Oh, yes. We pointed this out to the President but he figured that later on we'd have
to make some concessions on it, when the need became apparent. That was a terrible thing and Mr. Clayton went home and talked to the President, and the President vetoed the bill and that was a lot better. We ultimately did make a small concession, a 25 percent reduction. But the President supported the negotiators, vetoed the quota, authorized the final concession, and in every way gave his full power and political support to this effort. This was most crucial to the success of the whole meeting.
One interesting thing happened at the meeting. These negotiations went on in 106 different compartments. And then, just as in the case of putting the lists together, toward the end of the conference we put the results of the negotiations together, and at that point we came to a major disagreement which almost wrecked the conference.
MCKINZIE: Over imperial preferences?
BROWN: Yes. Every tariff cut we got from a
Commonwealth country reduced the preferences. But Mr. Clayton wanted to get total elimination of all preferences. We civil servants knew it wouldn't be possible to do that. Mr. Clayton at one time really thought that Sir Stafford Cripps had agreed with that and there was a terrible misunderstanding. He was very hard to convince that we had to go ahead even without that total elimination having been agreed. So, we came to this impasse. At that point the boys came in with the total results of the tariff negotiations and each side found that so much had been accomplished that it could not be lost. This total accomplishment just had to be saved somehow.
We signed the agreement and I was privileged to sign it for the United States. Then it was put in effect by most of the countries, but by some with reluctance, because the other ITO rules, such as those relating to commodity agreements had not been agreed upon or put into force.
MCKINZIE: But you still had to live with the other parts of this thing for a while.
BROWN: Well, then we put the new tariff rates into effect, and then we went on to Havana to negotiate the other part of the agreement, on cartels and so on, full-employment and the structure of the organization. There was an agreement written; but, as I say, Congress wouldn't buy it.
MCKINZIE: Do you remember any of the preparations for that?
BROWN: Yes, although it doesn't have anything to do with Truman.
MCKINZIE: Well, it bears upon the preparations I'm sure.
BROWN: No. I just remember the anguish at the Havana Conference. It was long, and dreary, and by that time everybody was so fed up with the familiar subject matter that had been hashed over, and over, and over, and it was pretty tedious. And by that time most people in Washington had lost interest in it. We'd got what we wanted; what the hell. I can remember an
anecdote. I remember that at one point I got an anguished call from Clair Wilcox, who was the head of our delegation, saying that they hadn't heard anything from the Department and the Secretary had never said anything, and they were feeling very lonely and neglected, and morale was bad. So, I went in to see Mr. [Robert A.] Lovett, the Under Secretary, and I told him about this. Mr. Lovett said, "You know General Marshall, he operates as a staff officer operates, and he doesn't interfere or take part in things unless there is some trouble. He hadn't been bothering anybody, so, simply, that means that he is satisfied with the way things are going." And I said, "Well, I'm sorry to have bothered you and thank you very much. This is just what I need to send and I will send it in your name." And I walked out of the office and at the door I turned around to say, "Goodnight" and he was sitting there looking down at the desk, and he looked up at me and said, "Do you want to know what it's like to feel lonely? Just sit up
here and watch the world going to hell right before your eyes." I turned around and went out of the room my tail between my legs. But that's a personal -- how he felt.
Then I remember vividly Clair Wilcox's story -- he was the head of the ITO delegation at the time -- about being invited to dinner by the Afghans, who for some reason or other was there, and he wondered why. They gave him a drink, and they had had appetizers, and soup, and fish, and meat, and dessert, and coffee, and brandy -- a marvelous meal -- and he kept wondering what this was all about. Finally the leader of the delegation came right out and said, "Mr. Wilcox, may I ask you a question?"
Wilcox said, "Why of course."
He said, "Mr. Wilcox, why are we here?"
MCKINZIE: As if there had been a slip-up.
BROWN: In the event, of course, nobody really laments the passing of the ITO, and the Australians and everybody else realize this.
MCKINZIE: Do you think in retrospect that it would have been possible to have achieved a multilateral tariff reduction without having tied it originally to such a...
BROWN: I think it would have been very difficult; and actually, even though we didn't have the ITO, we did get an agreement all around the circle on the principles which should govern commodities. That was the thing the other countries cared the most about, the commodity section. Full employment, yes, but the commodity agreement was the number two item of importance; and I've forgotten how it was embodied, but anyhow, it was quite clear that we did have agreement on the basic criteria for commodity agreements and the ones that have been negotiated have all been negotiated in accordance with those principles. The only thing that really lost was the full employment provision, which wouldn't have made any differences anyhow, and something on international cartels, which was of comparatively little importance, and
the organization. Now we're a heck of a lot better off with the GATT organization than we would have been with an ITO. The GATT organization is very small and is very practical, and a good place for resolving disputes and making complaints. We were fortunate enough to get as the Secretary General of the GATT for many, many years, a fellow named Eric Wyndham White, who was abolutely outstanding and a genius at reconciling differences. He loved the job and did it extremely well. And I think it's probably got about the smallest staff of any of the world organizations we belong to. And we never have dared ask the Congress to create a separate appropriation; it's still financed out of conference funds.
MCKINZIE: Could we talk a little bit about other activities when you were with the Division of Commercial Policy? I think you were the Director of that from about 1948-50, weren't you?
BROWN: Yes, I was head of it during the first part, then I succeeded Wilcox as head of the Trade
Policy Division. Then I went over to International Materials Policy during the Korean war off and on, and dealt with shortages of raw materials.
MCKINZIE: Did the Division of Commercial Policy get intimately involved with those negotiations which accompanied Marshall Plan agreements in Europe?
BROWN: No. It had nothing to. do with that.
MCKINZIE: Nothing to do whatsoever with those or with the Point IV agreements -- the country agreements that were being made during 1950.
BROWN: No, we did not.
MCKINZIE: Could you talk to me a little bit about your work with the Office of International Materials Policy after the Korean war started? Particularly about the method of stockpiling that was a sensitive topic at the time.
BROWN: Yes. Stockpiling is a very sensitive subject
because the producing countries welcomed stockpiling purchases but when an item becomes surplus you need to sell it