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National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) records

Creation: 1914-1985
Accession: 2345
View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.
View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.


The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) was established on May 28, 1914 to coordinate the foreign trade activities of the United States. The convention appointed thirty-five delegates to serve as charter members of the NFTC, with James A. Farrell (1863-1943), then-President of U.S. Steel, the new organization's first chairman. Records chronicle U.S. corporate policy toward the most pressing issues of foreign trade in the twentieth century.


  • Creation: 1914-1985



183 Linear Feet

Historical Note

The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) was established on May 28, 1914, by a resolution of the first National Foreign Trade Convention, during its proceedings at Washington D.C.'s Hotel Raleigh. In this resolution the convention, which met on May 27 and 28, 1914, called for the creation of a national organization "to coordinate the foreign trade activities of the nation." The convention appointed thirty-five delegates to serve as charter members of the NFTC, with James A. Farrell (1863-1943), then-President of U.S. Steel, the new organization's first chairman.

During the first phase of the NFTC's existence, from its founding in 1914 to its incorporation in New York as a membership corporation in 1936, the Council's activities were focused on organizing its annual convention and, increasingly, directly negotiating with foreign corporations and governments on behalf of member companies for repatriation of funds and for commercial funding agreements. Much of the Council's activity during this period was focused on Caribbean and Latin American trading partners.

As part of its 1936 incorporation, the Council reorganized with a Board of Directors and a permanent, paid President responsible for "general direction of the Council, [and] all matters pertaining to finances and policyà" In his capacity as CEO of the Council, the President also directed the Council's first permanent staff. The Board of Directors was comprised of executives of member companies elected annually by the membership.

The Council enlarged its activities significantly in the immediate pre-war period, consolidating with the American Manufacturers Export Association in 1936, and establishing its Captain Robert Dollar Memorial Award in 1937. This award, given annually at the NFTC annual convention, honors "...the most outstanding contribution towards the advancement of the foreign trade of our country" and was named for Captain Robert Dollar, a founding NFTC member and the owner of the Dollar Line, a pioneering international steamship company. Secretary of State Cordell Hull 1871-1955) was the first recipient of the award in 1938, with successive awardees including government officials and leading industrialists and financiers.

By 1940, the NFTC had 516 member companies, and was increasingly active in the promotion of competitive trade policies based on principles of free enterprise and limited regulation. The activities of the Council were carried out largely through the establishment of committees concerned with specific regional trade or particular legislative or regulatory issues, and by the adoption of committee reports and recommendations by the Board. Committees were established by the Board of Directors according to the interests of the membership.

During World War II, the Council's activities were primarily focused on securing U.S. property held abroad and consulting with government agencies responsible for war production and foreign trade on behalf of its membership. Throughout the war, however, the NFTC continued to promulgate resolutions and recommendations emphasizing the primacy of free trade and competition as standards for any post-war normalization of international trade relations and treaties. Through its declarations, publications, and submissions to Congressional hearings and government conferences, the NFTC promoted simplification of regulations governing the export trade, and opposed trade barriers, the application of restraint of trade law to foreign enterprise by U.S. companies, and restrictive tariffs in general.

The NFTC's activities in the immediate post-war period were increasingly focused on post-war planning and problems related to the position of private enterprise during the post war economic transition. Council representatives and members took part in or advised on many of the most significant conferences and international agreements following the end of hostilities, including the Bretton Woods Agreements, the Rye Conference, the 1947-1948 United Nations International Trade Organization conference in Havana, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the Marshall Plan. NFTC conference statements, committee proceedings, and publications in this period emphasize planning for the preservation of free enterprise and the deregulation of trade between friendly nations. The Council was also interested in influencing legislation and regulations concerning expropriated U.S. property in Germany and Soviet Union- occupied areas of Germany and Eastern Europe, and with relaxing restrictions on business travel to formerly hostile areas, Europe, and the Western Pacific.

As a result of the dramatic increase in the scope and influence of its work in the post-war environment, the Council expanded its permanent staff structure and merged with smaller organizations, establishing a new territorial division in 1948 through the absorption of the Council for Inter-American Cooperation. The NFTC also planned, but never consummated, a merger with the Far East-America Council. The Council also worked extensively with other trade organizations in attempts to coordinate policy positions and legislative initiatives. Council directors were also members of such organizations as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, N.A.M., the American Maritime Council, and Nelson Rockefeller's U.S. Council of International Economic Policy, among others.

Throughout this period the Council continued to hold its annual convention, but also increased the scope of its publication and information services to members, issuing large numbers of memoranda, bulletins, regional periodicals and digests of business news on particular issues or areas related to international trade. Council staff and members were increasingly involved in government liaison, including testimony before Congress and lobbying of administration officials.

The Council continued to be an influential voice in U.S. international trade and investment throughout the 1950s and 1960s, issuing statements and testifying before Congressional hearings on the fullest range of U.S. foreign trade policies, including taxation of foreign earnings, GATT, immigration policy, and the protection of U.S. business interests in revolutionary regimes. The Council continued to issue frequent and voluminous reports on trade policies and other legislative and political developments with trading partners across the globe. Council initiatives in the 1970s and 1980s included promotion of the economic benefits of multinational corporations to home countries and involvement in U.S. and international legislation and agreements regulating the activities of global and trans-national companies; reporting on the impact of U.S. tax reform on American expatriates and business interests; development of regulations proposed in response to the depreciation of the dollar; the OPEC boycott and many other issues.

From the 1990s, the Council continued to take a leading role in representing U.S. business interests in the global economy. In 1997, the NFTC was instrumental in the founding of USA*Engage, a coalition of business interests including the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Petroleum Institute, opposed to unilateral sanctions against foreign regimes. This organization has focused on U.S. government trade policy relating to Myanmar, Sudan, Iran and other nations accused of permitting or promoting human rights violations. Other recent policy initiatives include lobbying in support of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement (CAFTA) through the Hispanic Alliance for Free Trade, an umbrella group organized by the NFTC; support of United States business interests in South Africa through its sponsorship of the U.S. South Africa Business Council; continued representation of American export business interests at the World Trade Organization's Doha round of negotiations. Through its Human Resources initiative, the Council has explored issues surrounding the human resource management of global business interests, particularly compensation and benefits for mobile executives and relocated employees of U.S. companies.

Scope and Content

The National Foreign Trade Council (NTFC) records chronicle U.S. corporate policy toward the most pressing issues of foreign trade in the 20th century, from the Council's initial charge in 1914 to "àcoordinate the foreign trade activities of the nation." Records prior to the 1936 incorporation are slight, and the Council's activities in that period relate almost exclusively to negotiations of funding agreements with Latin-American trading partners of various member companies. The Council became progressively more active, and its records more substantial, in the immediate pre-war period and especially in the period of trade reconstruction immediately following the Second World War. From this period up until the present date, the Council is one of the most significant and influential trade associations dealing exclusively with foreign trade, with a membership representing the largest and most profitable American companies with significant foreign trade interests, as well as many multinational corporations based in America. Its records document corporate interests and influence on U.S. government policies in the taxation and regulation of foreign trade, the promotion of free-market policies, and U.S. participation in the negotiation of international trade treaties.

The publications received from the NFTC are not complete. Many of the older serial and individual publications are lacking, although some are available in other libraries.

Corporate records series consists of minutes and dockets for the annual and monthly meetings. Describes the operation of the NFTC in the most summary form at the level of the annual members' meeting and the regular meetings of the Board of Directors. Most of the detail work is carried out by the various committees and by the permanent staff.

The Publications of the NFTC consist of regular annual and quarterly reports covering the operations of the organization as a whole; bulletins and memoranda issued to the members with discussions of current events and topics of interest; smaller newsletters that in recent years supplemented the older bulletins and memoranda; and special publications.

The Events series files relating to the National Foreign Trade Conventions have been arranged in three subseries: General; Conventions; and The Robert Dollar Award.

General subseries consists of files about the operation of the conventions in general, including notes on comparative costs and topical digests of the final declarations. There are also copies of ceremonial letters from the Presidents of the United States from Franklin D. Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter, some of which are in the general and some in the annual files. These letters are on White House stationery with facsimile signatures and usually contain nothing more than a bland assessment of current trade and international issues.

Conventions subseries arranges the papers dealing with each convention chronologically from the fifth in 1918 to the seventy-second in 1987. For the period from 1918 to 1939, the file is generally limited to a copy of the final declaration. From the 1952 into the 1980s, the files are much more thorough. They contain all of the paperwork generated by arranging and staging the convention, including securing the hotel facilities, arranging the seating and menus for the luncheons and banquets (often with floor plans of the hotels), publicity, registration and invitations to non-members, arranging the programs for individual and general sessions, recruiting speakers and honorees, copies of speeches and papers, drafts and final copies of declarations, final accounting, and printing of the proceedings.

The Robert Dollar Award subseries consists of files assembled for the nomination, selection and award process for the Captain Robert Dollar Memorial Award. Records relating to the nomination, selection, and award process for the Captain Robert Dollar Memorial Award. Folders typically include correspondence and memoranda concerning selection of award committee; letters of nomination from various NFTC members and officers, with biographical information and nominator's opinions on the nominee's fitness for the award; correspondence concerning balloting for the award, tabulation of results, and final decisions; arrangements for awardees' attendance at honors event, with organizational correspondence relating to production of award plaque, drafts of event speeches, press clippings and press releases.

Committees series has been arranged into twenty-seven subseries: Committees -- General; Antitrust Committee; Balance of Payments Committee; Committee on the Law of the Sea; European Community Committee; Finance Committee; Foreign Property Committee; Immigration Committee; Industrial Property Committee; International Compensation Committee; International Energy Policy Committee; Trade Policy Committee; International Environment Committee; International Finance Committee; International Investment Committee; International Trade & Investment Policy Committee; Latin America Division; Management Resources & Organization Committee; Nominating Committee; Pension Committee; Policy Advisory Committee; Policy Declaration Committee; Public Relations Committee; Salary Committee; and the Tax Committee. Each subseries contains further description.

The records include summaries of board meetings of the NFTC and CIAC concerning negotiations over the merger of CIAC and the reorganization of the NFTC; annual and periodic reports by CIAC, minutes of committee meetings, and copies of publications; financial records of the organization, including lists of subscribers, bank statements, and tax filings; officers' correspondence concerning various issues, including the establishment and activities of regional Inter-American Centers; responses to inquiries concerning CIAC information resources and activities. Records of the organization's application for tax-exempt status provide particularly detailed financial records and a comprehensive organizational summary. The full transcript of the October 1945 meeting includes frank discussion by Nelson A. Rockefeller, CIAC Chairman Burgess, and other officials about the goals of the organization and the reasons for its establishment, selection of members and inclusion of Latin American representatives in the governance of the organization, CIAC activities and financing.

The correspondence and reference files of the NFTC's executive officers have been arranged in six series. To some degree, this division is artificial, as the records appeared to have been put in storage in miscellaneous batches with mixed provenance. Regardless of origin, most of the records appear to have passed through the hands of the Corporate Secretary.

Therefore, the principal series has been arranged as a general subject file. Authors represented include Chairmen Elis S. Hoglund, Robert J. Dixson and Robert F. Loree; Presidents William S. Swingle, John Aiken and Robert M. Norris; and Vice Presidents John Quick, Joseph B. Brady, Donald F. Heatherington and William H. Baldwin, Jr. Files that can be tied to a single officer have been arranged in five smaller series.

A large portion of most of the series consists of the NFTC's published Memoranda and Bulletins, but here they are grouped by subject rather than being arranged chronologically as in the Publications group. In addition to regular correspondence, the files also contain news clippings and tear sheets, press releases, reports and drafts, speeches and testimony, and publications of the NFTC itself, business corporations, the federal government, the United Nations, and their associated agencies. There are many letters and statements offering advice to important members of Congress, presidents and cabinet officers, but relatively few candid replies from notable public figures. Most of the letters are from officers of Fortune 500 corporations that make up the membership of the NFTC. There are copies of opposing testimony from trade unions and their leaders on trade and investment legislation seen as threatening American jobs and wage levels.

All of the important government and corporate publications embedded in these files have been individually cataloged in Hagley's on line public catalog and can be retrieved through author, title, and subject searches.

Existence and Location of Copies

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Access Restrictions

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Language of Materials


Additional Description


On Deposit from the National Foreign Trade Council.

Separated Material

The proceedings of the annual National Foreign Trade Conventions, NFTC's largest publication, have been transferred to the Published Collections Department and may be found in Hagley's online library catalog.

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) records
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Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA