The Reciprocal Trade Agreements Program and Guatemala: A Study of United States Relations With Central America, 1934--1936

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Orazio Ciccarelli

Advisor Department



Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act on 12 June 1934. The new trade program that the law authorized was the hallmark of the foreign commercial policy of the U.S. during the 1930s. International and domestic pressures destined the program to play a prominent role in the Western Hemisphere where it found some of its least reluctant subscribers in Central America. However, contrary to expectations, the monocultural and complementary economy of Guatemala, typical of the region, did not conform easily to the program's specifications. The various national, regional, and international obstacles that influenced the circuitous trade treaty negotiations with Guatemala illustrated the numerous transitions that the program underwent and the various objectives that it pursued from the earliest planning stages of the Reciprocal Trade Act to the conclusion of a treaty with Guatemala on 24 April 1936. The reciprocal trade program proved to be very pliable once exposed to the complex processes of national politics, State Department bureaucracy, and regional and international pressures. Beginning as a lofty ambition toward more liberal trade inspired by free-trade theorists, the program eventually entered the realms of tariff reform, depression relief, the Good Neighbor Policy, international commercial nationalism, and hemispheric security. Largely inadequate in all of these duties, the program's goals were often illusory and contradictory. Its few successes were unintentional and political. The problems of the trade program stemmed primarily from design. Forged into an acceptable configuration by a Congress that reflected powerful isolationists sentiments of the 1930s, most of the trade program's ineffectiveness was dictated by law. Administered from the State Department, it naturally became tinged with the concerns and attitudes of that office. Finally, as a unilateral foreign policy formulated to serve the immediate self-interests of the U.S., it did not consider the economic diversity or the wide range of needs it would meet on the international scene. Guatemala confronted Washington with a unique scenario that the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Program was ill equipped to handle, thereby forcing a redefinition of the trade programs's scope and purpose that in turn clarified the larger hemispheric policy of the U.S.