The Significance of Foreign Trade


By H. HUMANN, Representative, Banco Nacional de Mexico, S. A., Chairman of the Postwar World Trade PlanningCommittee, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce

Delivered at a Foreign Trade Week Luncheon in Los Angeles, Calif., May 23, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 634-635.

I DON'T think anyone can appreciate the significance of Foreign Trade Week until they fully realize the true significance of Foreign Trade itself—the degree to which Foreign Trade affects every moment of our lives. That may sound to you like a strong statement. But let us see.

Let us go back to your homes. Take down from your kitchen shelves every article that is made or packaged from articles we must import. Then you must take down every container that is made of tin, take down every bottle that is stoppered in whole or in part with cork or which is capped with tin. Take down every article that has been sweetened with sugar, flavored with natural flavorings, or spiced with natural spices. You must take down the cocoa, the chocolate, the tea, and the coffee. You won't have much left.

What about the mahogany and other hardwoods in your furnishings—the great percentage of wool in your carpets and rugs and upholsterings; to say nothing of the clothes you wear. What of the leather in your belts and shoes? Do we produce all of our requirements of these? We do not.

What of the soap with which you wash or shave? The cosmetics with which your women adorn themselves? Are not both these items made of imported coconut oil, palm kernel oil and oils from other nuts and seeds?

Surely, the greatest advance in civilization was achieved during the machine age. Particularly in the past number of Bars of the extraordinary development of machinery itself. l development made possible by steel—hard steel. Yet nd industrialized nation in the world produces a substantial part of the tungsten, the antimony, the chrome and the manganese which must be added to iron to make hard steel. Not even ourselves, the greatest industrialized nation in the world, and ranking high in resources, for we must import on the average more than half our requirements of this nature.

During our present generation, yours and mine, we have passed with a whoop and a hurrah in motive power from the steam age into the age of electricity. The whoop and the hurrah was furnished by the advertising profession in order to load us down with electrical gadgets. So now we begin the day by mixing, cooking our foods, percolating our coffee, and burning our toast with electricity. We shave, clean our houses, wash our clothes and dishes, and preserve our foods with electricity. We travel, whether by automobile, plane, car, train, or boat, with the aid of electricity. We plant, harvest and process our foods; we make everything we use or wear with the aid of electricity. The radio and motion picture—essentially products of electricity—entertain or amuse, or annoy us. And, finally, we end the day by turning out the electric light. Truly, we are in the age of electricity. An age which was made possible, however, only when the one article was discovered which had the requisite qualities of flexibility, insulation and resistance to heat required by the modern high-speed electric motor which in itself is the key to the electric age. An article called Split Mica, and of which no industrialized nation produces more than a small fraction of its normal requirements. In fact, 70% comes from India, and most of the balance from nations of Latin America.

No nation today, then, no people are self-sufficient. In fact so great is the mutual dependency that it is no longer possible for any nation to be prosperous—fully employed—when depending solely upon domestic activity and demand. On the contrary, the greatest era of prosperity and of maximum employment within nations occur only in those periods of greatest exchange of goods and products between nations. The high water marks in the flow of Foreign Trade.

And as this applies to nations, surely it applies to Los Angeles as a part of our nation. It thereby points inescapably to the fact that we must develop in this area to a greater factor in Foreign Trade than ever before, as one of the answers to the unemployment problem with which we shall be confronted with the coming of Peace.

But, you say, these are the material things, and after all there is more to life than these. What of the intellectual and spiritual satisfactions for which our minds and souls crave?

Intellectual? Was it not in fact the Phoenician foreign trader, venturing out into the unknown of his world, hugging the shores of the Mediterranean in small barks in search of trade, who discovered the alphabet? Did they not bring it to Greece, who in turn exploited this discovery into their great contribution to the advancement of civilization—the invention of writing with an alphabet? Was it not commercial Holland and commercial England who, during the heights of their commercial glory, made possible only, mind you, by the great percentage of their foreign trade—was it not they who gave to the world the Universities at Leyden, Oxford, and Cambridge, and thus set the pace in education for the rest of the world to follow? What of the backrgound, the source of wealth, of those who helped found Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell?

Spiritual? Whether you believe in it or not, the fact that one of the greatest philosophical discoveries in modern civilization was the Christian Religion. Yet it undoubtedly would have remained a localized sect or ism, localized to the community in which worked the Carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth, had it not been for the Thessalonian foreign traders, whose vessels were used by the Disciples of Christ to spread the Word among the surrounding nations and peoples, and thus started the sweep of Christianity throughout the world.

And so, gentlemen, has it been through the ages, the interchange of ideas among peoples through the mechanism of World Trade.

One significance, then, of Foreign Trade Week is that once a year we can stop and reflect, and perhaps dilate, upon the realization that there is no human activity or human effort, physical, intellectual or spiritual that has not felt directly or indirectly the beneficial effects of Foreign Trade from the earliest tribal days to the highly complex civilization which is ours of today.

To a complex civilization wherein no nation, no people are self-sufficient. Wherein all are dependent upon each other for the benefits of modern civilization. Benefits which in former days were priceless, reserved for the few, but now have been brought within the reach of all, regardless of where, of race, of color, of creed, or of economic status.

There is another significance which was emphasized last year, as it has been this year, and unfortunately may be next year—a significance made more realistic by the fact that here in this room we sit with the representatives of the United Nations. United Nations? United in what? United in the fight for the supremacy of a great principle. The second great philosophical development of modern times. The principle of Democracy. Not alone in government. No. For in true Democracy government should play always a minor role. But Democracy in industry, in agriculture, in finance, in religion, in education, in the arts. A philosophy of life which is based upon the fundamental right of every individual to liberty of action. To work, to save, to grow, to think, to speak, to write, to worship. A Democracy, then, that is based upon individual enterprise, private initiative; but not forgetting social justice, economic justice for all.

And one of these days in the not too distant future, more representatives of the United Nations will be sitting at the Peace Table—as Victors—and they will be confronted with the great responsibility of putting our world house in order to permit the exercise of this great principle of Democracy throughout all the world. They will be confronted with the. problems of money, international exchange, of trade barriers, tariffs, and subsidies. Of freedom of the air and freedom of the seas.

And what is the fundamental basis of all these problems, the common root from which they stem? It is the realization of the mutual dependency of nations and peoples uponeach other. The realization of their inalienable right to produce and to be entitled to the use of their own material resources to build up their own national wealth. Their inherent right to process these resources by their own manufactures—if they choose—to add to their respective purchasing powers. The right to have access to world markets to exchange their products or their manufactures for those of other lands and which they themselves do not produce.

The fundamental problem, then, the overall problem with which they will be confronted is to assure the interchange of goods and ideas through unrestricted World Trade for the everlasting benefit and the continued advancement of all of the peoples of all of the world.

Right there, gentlemen, in that realization is the true significance of Foreign Trade and Foreign Trade Week.