The Bell Trade Act of 1946, also known as the Philippine Trade Act, was an act passed by the United States Congress specifying policy governing trade between the Philippines and the United States following independence of the Philippines from the United States. The United States Congress offered $800 million for post World War II rebuilding funds if the Bell Trade Act was ratified by the Philippine Congress. The specifics of the act required the 1935 Constitution of the Philippines be amended. The Philippine Congress approved the measure on July 2, two days before independence from the United States of America, and on September 18, 1946 approved a plebiscite to amend the Constitution of the Philippines.
Authored by Missouri Congressman C. Jasper Bell, the Bell Trade Act required:
The Bell Act, particularly the parity clause, was seen by critics as an inexcusable surrender of national sovereignty. The pressure of the sugar barons, particularly those of President Roxas's home region of Western Visayas, and other landowner interests, however, was irresistible.
In 1955, the Laurel–Langley Agreement revised the Bell Trade Act. This treaty abolished the United States authority to control the exchange rate of the peso, made parity privileges reciprocal, extended the sugar quota, and extended the time period for the reduction of other quotas and for the progressive application of tariffs on Philippine goods exported to the United States.
Philippine Parity Rights plebiscite, 1947
As required by the Bell Trade Act, a plebiscite was held in the Philippines to amend the Philippine Constitution to provide for "parity rights" between American and Philippine citizens.
Prior to the plebiscite, the Constitutional amendment had to be approved by the Philippine Congress, which required a 3/4 vote by the Philippine House and Philippine Senate. The 3/4 vote was obtained only by the denial of seats in the House to six members of the leftist Democratic Alliance and three from the Nacionalista Party on grounds of fraud and violent campaign tactics during the April 1946 election. Then the definition of three-quarters had to be settled because three-quarters of the sitting members, not the full House and Senate (including non-voting and absent members), had approved the amendment. The Philippine Supreme Court resolved the dispute in favor of the amendment.
The plebiscite was held on March 11, 1947 and voters approved the amendment 79% to 21%. Forty percent of voters participated in the plebiscite.