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Baron Jean-Charles Snoy Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Baron Jean-Charles Snoy

During the years of the Truman administration, was president of the Benelux Council, 1946-48; and chairman of the Council of the OEEC (Organization for European Economic Cooperation), 1948-50; and of Steering Board for Trade, OEEC, 1952.

Brussels, Belgium
June 24, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson

See Also May 27, 1964 interview.

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened May, 1982
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Baron Jean-Charles Snoy


Brussels, Belgium
June 24, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson


WILSON: I realize this is a very busy time for you.

SNOY: Yes indeed. I have only a little spare time, because we are involved in a lot of parliamentary debates.

WILSON: Also there are some matters that are very closely associated with the events of 1945-53, the Common Market, and British negotiations for the Common Market.

SNOY: Yes.


WILSON: I'm particularly interested because of the comments that you've made in these interviews about the necessity for trade liberalization in the period. I'm particularly interested in having you comment on the American support for trade liberalization in the period.


SNOY: Well, beginning in the immediate postwar period the American policy of trade liberalization was, I think, very steady and very profitable for the world. In fact, I had, myself, the experience of living in the United States when the Hawley-Smoot tariff act was enacted. I had even in my doctoral thesis studied the flexible tariff. I, of course, know about the solidity of American protectionist tradition, and it was really a great fortune, a good fortune for the world, to have, immediately after 1945, an American policy that constantly strived towards liberalization of trade. We had it in the Havana Charter; we had it, of course, at Bretton Woods in the constitution of the Monetary Fund; and, we had it in the GATT, when it was accepted in Geneva. Also, the Americans were very open-minded about what was necessary from the point


of view of regional liberalization, even with certain preferential flavor. You will remember that when we tried to go ahead in OEEC [Organization for European Economic Cooperation], liberalizing trade and solving the balance of payments problems through our special multilateral payments system, the European Payments Union, there was a certain discrimination in favor of European intra-trade. Our American friends were quite understanding, and they didn't react too much because they understood that it was impossible to start without an effort to take risks, which were limited. I think that this was a very wise policy that was followed; it came to an end in 1959-60 when we went to true convertibility. In fact, all the liberalized sectors in intra-OEEC trade were opened to the Americans.


WILSON: Would it be correct to say that there was some difference between the Department of State and ECA [Economic Cooperation Administration]?

SNOY: Sure there was. But in fact, the Department of


State was able to carry this very large view of policy which really was a foundation for the prosperity of the world.


WILSON: What about the other side of American trade policy, that is, the discriminatory tariffs against European imports?

SNOY: Well, the other side of American policy, of course, is always to a certain extent a reflection of the old isolationist tradition. When you have the "buy American act," when you have the American ceiling price, and when you have the very important sanitary rules for import of goods in the United States, these are, of course, very important ways of carrying out protectionist policy. We have gone far with the Kennedy Round. In fact, we are missing the target now, because the next steps to get rid of all non-tariff obstacles to trade seem to be very difficult to reach.

WILSON: Would it be correct to say that the ECA representatives in Europe were understanding and perhaps


embarrassed somewhat by what was being done?


SNOY: I would say that they were very, very open-minded people, in there. I have always been impressed by the leadership they gave to our efforts to enlarge trade currents and financial currents.

WILSON: This was one of the efforts that Paul Hoffman and Averell Harriman made, which was to expand exports into the United States.

SNOY: With Hoffman and Harriman and all of these great leaders we had, I think we made good work.

WILSON: I'm not sure you recall, but I've read that material about this mission the Commerce Department sent over -- the Wayne-Taylor Mission in 1949 -- to try to investigate the problems that were imposed by the United States sanitary regulations. How much importance should one give to this?

SNOY: Let's say this is a little far away; I know the mission was extremely important, and we attached great importance to talking with them and to have


an exchange of views. But it's a little remote and hard to know exactly where the mission began and where it ended, and how it fit in with the whole pattern of history. I would have to get back into many files to know about that.


WILSON: Well, your point's helpful.

One more question on this line. What about the effect of such legislation as the Battle Act, which you mentioned? This in a way was restrictive of European trade, in that it began to slow down East-West trade.

SNOY: I would say we have always found it a little theoretical, and we didn't feel that it made any kind of impact on Eastern policy. I don't know if it was worthwhile, and it has always been extremely difficult to avoid distortions of trade, which were very annoying for our traders, for importers and exporters.

WILSON: Did Belgium have a large trade with the Eastern bloc of countries in Eastern Europe before the war?


SNOY: Oh yes. You will remember that the pattern of trade of Europe before the war of 1914 was extremely important with all of the Danubian basin, the Black Sea ports, and the Baltic. After the First World War, it went down a little, but we had extremely important trade links with Poland, with Czechoslovakia, with Rumania, and with all the Balkan States. That was the normal, pattern of trade for Europe, and because of the Iron Curtain, to be kept from trading with the East meant disaster for a great number of firms in these countries. Natural geography had made the very narrow bonds of partnership with so many houses in the East of Europe. We have now trade with the East, which is very small in comparison with what it was in proportions of our trade fifty years ago. It has been reduced to a very little amount.


WILSON: That was a major reason, or explanation, for the dollar imbalance after the Second World War, because you had to import much more.

SNOY: Yes; it was a reason for imbalance.


WILSON: As I study this complicated subject, I become more impressed by the idea that these problems go back to at least the First World War and perhaps beyond.


SNOY: Yes. You see, immediately after the First World War everybody was obliged to cut trade with the U.S.S.R., but there remained very important links of trade with all the Eastern countries which were at that time independent -- the Baltic States of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, with Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. They were very important trading partners between the two world wars. Then we had the war events, and it was impossible to reestablish the normal geographical links with the outlets which, of course, were very large because the distances were not so great.

WILSON: Was it anticipated in the first two or three years after the war that these links would be re-established?

SNOY: You remember that before the "Prague coup,"


Czechoslovakia was increasing again her economic relations with the West. There were quite a number of possibilities of trade through Sweden and through Austria. So it has been really a formidable change of the pattern of trade of Western Europe, to be unable to trade with these countries.


WILSON: Might one say that the first aims of Europeans were to reestablish that open system, perhaps a global system of trade and convertibility, that had been in effect before the First World War?

SNOY: Yes. Immediately after the war the idea was to reestablish everything to normalcy, and normalcy was the prewar pattern.


SNOY: That's another way of thinking about it. In fact, it was impossible and we had to build something completely different. Nobody realized that from the beginning.

WILSON: How important, in causing the necessity for


change, was the feebleness of sterling as an international currency?


SNOY: Well, the feebleness of sterling has played a great role. In fact, you will remember that in 1947 the British, with American help, tried to reestablish convertibility. They had made a great move towards convertibility and it was a catastrophe. Then we were in the '47 negotiations, after Marshall's speech at Harvard, and we found in the American Marshall plan, and in our