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Address to the Fourth Pan American Commercial Conference.

October 08, 1931

Gentlemen of the Conference:

I am most happy to extend to you the warmest possible welcome on behalf of the Government and people of the United States. We are grateful to you for coming to Washington at this time to discuss the commercial problems of common interest to the nations of America. You are meeting during a period of widespread economic depression, but this fact emphasizes rather than diminishes the necessity for the nations of this continent to take counsel with one another.

We recognize that the prosperity of each and every nation contributes to the prosperity of all. It is important that at conferences such as this the experience of each and every nation should be placed at the disposal of all in order that we may profit by our successes as well as learn the lessons of our failures.

There is one lesson from this depression to which I wish to refer, and I can present it no more forcibly than by repeating a statement which I made to this conference just 4 years ago, when we were in the heyday of foreign loans. I stated, in respect to such loans, that they are helpful in world development, "provided always one essential principle dominates the character of these transactions. That is, that no nation as a government should borrow or no government lend and nations should discourage their citizens from borrowing or lending unless this money is to be devoted to productive enterprise.

"Out of the wealth and the higher standards of living created from enterprise itself must come the ability to repay the capital to the borrowing country. Any other course of action creates obligations impossible of repayment except by a direct subtraction from the standards of living of the borrowing country and the impoverishment of its people.

"In fact, if this principle could be adopted between nations of the world--that is, if nations would do away with the lending of money for the balancing of budgets for purposes of military equipment or war purposes, or even that type of public works which does not bring some direct or indirect productive return--a great number of blessings would follow to the entire world.

"There could be no question as to the ability to repay; with this increasing security capital would become steadily cheaper, the dangers to national and individual independence in attempts of the lender to collect his defaulted debts would be avoided; there would be definite increase in the standard of living and the comfort and prosperity of the borrower.

"There could be no greater step taken in the prevention of war itself. This is perhaps a little further toward the millennium than our practical world has reached, and I do not propose that these are matters that can be regulated by law or treaty. They are matters that can be regulated solely by the commercial and financial sentiment of each of our countries; and if this body may be able to develop the firm conviction, develop the understanding that the financial transactions between nations must be built upon the primary foundation that money transferred is for reproductive purposes, it will have contributed to the future of the Western Hemisphere in a degree seldom open to a conference of this character."

I repeat this today, because had it been followed during these past 5 years our problems throughout the world would be far different, our difficulties infinitely less.

I have learned with particular interest and gratification that by far the greater number of those in attendance at this conference are not governmental delegates, but representatives of the commercial and financial establishments of the several American Republics. Particularly do we in the United States hold to the theory that commercial enterprise, except as rare emergency action, is essentially a private undertaking, and that the sole function of government is to bring about a condition of affairs favorable to the beneficial development of private enterprise. It is the failure to comprehend this conception of the relation between the function of government and the function of private enterprise that sometimes leads the thoughtless to assume the existence of an international indifference which does not in fact exist.

The larger significance of your meeting is attested by the fact that at stated intervals the accredited representatives of the governments and of the commercial organizations of this continent come together with a view to interchange of experience and fostering that mutual confidence without which the development of international commerce is impossible. Your work possesses a significance far beyond the concrete problems with which you will have to deal.

Permit me in closing to combine with my welcome the confident expectation that your deliberations will redound to the benefit of all the nations of this continent.

Note: The President spoke at approximately 11 a.m. to an audience of some 600 delegates assembled in the Pan American Building in Washington, D.C. His address was broadcast nationally and through an international radio hookup to Latin America.

Herbert Hoover, Address to the Fourth Pan American Commercial Conference. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/207841

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