Address of President Coolidge Before the Third Pan American Commercial Conference

Title: Address of President Coolidge Before the Third Pan American Commercial Conference

Date: May 3, 1927

Location: Washington, D.C.

Context: Coolidge delivers a welcoming address to the Third Pan American Commercial Conference, emphasizing cooperation and the importance of commerce on the global stage

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The Pan American movement rests on the principle of mutual helpfulness. This idea had its inception at the first meeting of American Republics in 1826, but did not reach its full development until the conference held in Washington in 1889, which organized the Bureau of American Republics, now known as the Pan American Union. Since this time many international conferences of American States have been held to consider scientific, sanitary, Red Cross, postal, journalistic, radio, standardization, highways, and other questions. These gatherings, representing the great body of unattached republics of the Western Hemisphere, are a great influence in commercial, industrial, and cultural development.

Our first commercial conference was held in 1911, our second in 1919, and this is the third. It is a happy circumstance that the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, meeting at this same time, gives an opportunity for bringing together representative business men covering all the territory of the Pan American Union. The growing intimacy of our relationship is emphasized by the fact that delegates are already here to hold a conference on commercial aviation and other delegates to confer on standardization. To all of these representatives the Government of the United States extends a most cordial welcome. They hold promise of great benefit to all the countries concerned and provide the opportunity and method for promoting mutual cooperation and friendly relations.

While this conference has a semiofficial standing, I believe that its great merit lies in the fact that it represents not government but private industry. Governments do not have commercial relations. They can promote and encourage it, but it is distinctly the business of the people themselves. If this desirable activity is to grow and prosper, if it is to provide the different nations with the means of self-realization, of education, progress, and enlightenment, it must in general be the product of private initiative. Under free governments trade must be free, and to be of permanent value it ought to be independent. Under our standard we do not expect the Government to support trade; we expect trade to support the Government. An emergency or national defense may require some different treatment, but under normal conditions trade should rely on its own resources, and should therefore belong to the province of private enterprise.

It is our conclusion that while government should encourage international trade and provide agencies for investigating and reporting conditions, those who are actually engaged in the transaction of business must necessarily make their own contacts and establish their own markets. There is scarcely any nation that is sufficient unto itself. The convenience and necessity of one people inevitably are served by the natural resources, climatic conditions, skill, and creative power of other peoples. This is the sound basis of international trade. This diversity of production makes it possible for one country to exchange its commodities for those of another country to the mutual advantage of both. It is this element that gives stability and permanence to foreign commerce. It contributes to satisfying wants and needs, and so becomes a help to all who are engaged in it.

The civilizing influence of commerce has often been noted. An exchange of commodities always results in an exchange of ideas. The railroad, steamship, telegraph, telephone, and now the airplane, have all reached their highest development as instrumentalities of trade. As law and order and security are absolutely necessary for industrial and commercial life, international exchange of large dimensions becomes one of the strongest guaranties of peace

The last half of the century has seen a very material reallocation of the commerce of the Western Hemisphere. In its beginning we were all largely dependent on Europe for a market for our raw materials and for a considerable supply of manufactured articles. This condition is very much changed. The United States has become the chief market for the raw materials of the southern republics, while on their part they have turned to us for a supply of manufactured commodities. Since our sister republics became independent this trade has greatly increased. In 1830, nearly a hundred years ago, the value of both exports and imports amounted to about $25,000,000; 50 years later it had reached more than $200,000,000, only a little less than ten times as much; and during the last 10 years it has averaged not far under $2,000,000,000, again increasing almost tenfold in 50 years. In the hundred years, or a little less, the increase has been nearly a hundredfold.

In this exchange of commodities this country has, as is known, purchased far more from them than they have purchased from us, or, in other words, the visible balance of trade has been in their favor. During the last five years our purchases have amounted to a total of $5,068,000,000 and our sales to $3,781,000,000, showing a difference of $1,387,000,000, or an excess of about 34 per cent. For the century the excess would be greater, probably by more than 40 per cent.

Not only has this country purchased more than it has sold, but it has long been the chief foreign purchaser of their products. During the 12 years ending with 1925, the only years for which complete statistics are available, this country’s share of their exports has averaged nearly 40 per cent. This is more than 200 per cent of the portion taken by Great Britain, the nearest competitor, and nearly 30 per cent above that taken by Great Britain, France, and Germany combined, the three next most important purchasers.

In the import trade of the southern republics the United States has also, though more recently, come to occupy the leading position. In 1900 the imports of all these countries, collectively considered, from Great Britain were about equal to their imports from the United States and Germany combined, which last two countries were on about an even footing. From 1900 to 1910 the United States gained rapidly, and since 1913 has remained in the lead in the collective imports of all Latin America. In the countries north of Panama the commercial importance of the United States has, because of greater proximity and greater diversity of products, been much greater than in those to the south. Even prior to 1890 imports into Mexico, Cuba, and Central America were almost uniformly greater from the United States than from any other country. Up to the year 1913 South America still imported more from Great Britain and more from Germany than from the United States. Since that time the Unites States has reached and maintained the first position in the import trade of South America just as it has maintained the lead in the import trade of all American republics.

While America is not the chief market for breadstuffs and animal products of these countries, it is and must be the chief market for industrial raw material, tropical and semitropical foods, copper, hides, wool, oil, cane sugar, and coffee. This trade must come to our market just as certainly as the trade of Texas, Kansas, or Connecticut must find its chief outlet in our domestic market. Such articles as mineral oils, molasses, chicle, nitrate, bananas, coffee, and refined copper find almost 100 per cent of their market in this country, while sugar and lead products come close to 85 per cent. While on the other hand, naturally, these countries do not take anywhere near so large a proportion of our total exports as we take of theirs, yet in many articles it runs about 30 per cent and its total for 1926 was almost $882,000,000, or about 20 per cent of our entire exports. This is a vast sum both in exports and imports, and of great importance to our southern neighbors and to ourselves in its financial effect and in its enormous humanizing influence.

A prime requisite of commerce is transportation. On account of location and cost most of our trade to the south is carried on by shipping. In the last few years these facilities have been both increased and improved. Boats which are comfortable and commodious run from New York to Peru in 12 days and to Chile in 20 days, while on the east coast the Argentine is reached in 20 days and Brazil in 12 days. At least once each week, sometimes oftener, there are sailings to Caribbean ports. This fine passenger service has brought people directly to America who formerly came here by way of European ports. In addition to this a very extensive freight service has been built up. In 1900 the number of American vessels that entered these foreign ports was 2,044, while the number that cleared was 1,623. In 1925 the number that entered was 6,239 and the number that cleared 8,193.

While ships can land goods on the coast, and sometimes go up the larger rivers, any extensive distribution is dependent upon land transportation. The building of railroads has greatly contributed to this purpose. Engineering feats have taken these railroads over high mountain ranges that seemed impossible. The highway, with the introduction of motor trucks, is becoming an important adjunct to the railroads in our own country and in all the republics to the south. Modern methods of construction have been so highly developed in building our highways that our road machinery is in great demand, and the desire for information and education on this subject has become so widespread as to call together great international conferences.
Supplementing other modes of travel, both by sea and land, is the development of aviation. While this has not reached the stage at which it becomes a very important factor in international commerce, yet where speed is necessary in carrying travelers, perishable articles, or mail, it holds promising possibilities.

Not only transportation, but communication, is necessary to commercial interchange. For this purpose we have the Pan American postal agreement, which makes the domestic rates on mail matter applicable to all the nations which are parties to the agreement. This includes all the republics of the two American continents with one exception, so that a letter will go anywhere within their territory at the domestic rate of postage which prevails in each. The cable and the radio both furnish means by which almost instantaneous communication can be had among all the nations of our two continents.

No doubt the most important influence in enlarging trade is advertising, and of all forms of advertising that which results from personal experience and personal contact is most valuable. A conference of this nature, that will bring into such intimate relationship the representatives of the various producing elements of so many different nations, can not help revealing many new wants and many new sources from which they can be supplied. Our sister republics have resources of enormous value, and a constantly increasing dependence of the whole world upon the products of their natural resources assures them of a continually enlarging commercial horizon. While our own country is desirous of participating in this trade, it does not wish to do so at the expense of any other people, but upon a basis which is mutually just and equitable. Commerce has no other permanent foundation. We expect other countries to produce commodities which we can use for our benefit, and we expect to produce commodities which they can use for their benefit. The result is a more abundant life for all concerned.

It is this mutual interdependence which justifies the whole Pan American movement. It is an ardent and sincere desire to do good, one to another. Our associates in the Pan American Union all stand on an absolute equality with us. It is the often declared and established policy of this Government to use its resources not to burden them but to assist them; not control them but to cooperate with them. It is the forces of sound thinking, sound government, and sound economics which hold the only hope of real progress, real freedom, and real prosperity for the masses of the people, that need the constantly combined efforts of all the enlightened forces of society. Our first duty is to secure these results at home, but an almost equal obligation requires us to exert our moral influence to assist all the peoples of the Pan American Union to provide similar agencies for themselves. Our Pan American Union is creating a new civilization in these western Republics, representative of all that is best in the history of the Old World. We must all cooperate in its advancement through mutual helpfulness, mutual confidence, and mutual forbearance.

Citation: Everett Sanders Papers, LoC

The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of John McLeod, who prepared this document for digital publication.

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