This morning I've spent probably 2 or 3 hours dealing with economic problems that face our Nation, primarily based upon international economic circumstances. I doubt if many Americans recognize the rapidly increasing importance of exports to the United States.
Just a few years ago we were almost independent of foreign trade, except for a few rare metals or other items which we were required to either import or to produce ourselves under very difficult circumstances. But that situation has changed dramatically. We've become much more heavily dependent upon imports. And we have seen, in a very beneficial way, a substantial portion of American productivity oriented toward the exporting of American products.
One out of every eight jobs in our country is now devoted to the manufacture and transportation of items to be exported. One out of every four acres of farmland in our country is now devoted to the production of food and fiber which will be exported. So, this is a very important development in the history of our Nation, economically speaking, and the trend that I've just described so briefly is accelerating.
The challenge is going to be even greater in the future; and, commensurately, the opportunities are going to be even greater in the future.
This Export Council is a major step in the right direction. Under the chairmanship of Reg Jones, helped ably by Paul Hall, Seafarers Union, and with the broad representation, including Governor Busbee and distinguished members of both governments at all levels and the private industry, labor and business, consumers, I think I'll have an excellent avenue to make sure that we speak with a coherent voice and that plans are made productively for our country.
The Export Council can explain to interested private citizens and others, both here in our country and overseas, the policies of our Government, what we are trying to accomplish. At the same time, they will be a counsel for me, to give me advice and to let the Congress and all members of my own administration know how we can do a better job as we face this tremendous challenge in the future.
We've made some progress. This time last year, this time 8 or 9 months ago, the constant headline—almost every day, and I flinched when I read it—was that the American dollar was under attack when there was a problem with the Mideast or OPEC oil or a disturbance in Lebanon or when the Japanese trade agreements were in doubt, immediately the dollar went down. Every time gold went up, the dollar went down. Every time anything happened, the dollar went down. And I think that because we took strong action, the dollar has been very stable ever since the 1st of November.
This has helped us, and I think we are all grateful for this progress. But there can be no permanent stability for the dollar or for the international monetary system unless we are able to alleviate our very serious adverse trade balance. Because of various circumstances, which I won't try to outline this morning because of the press of time, we will reduce our negative trade balance this year about $10 billion compared to last year. It would be better than this if we weren't having an unanticipated sharp increase in OPEC oil prices.
But I think that one of the things we can do to compensate for this or other threatening developments is to dramatically increase the level of exports from our country to foreign nations. This will be a major factor in cutting down on inflation. It'll provide new jobs for our people; it'll give a new spirit of cooperation that might redound to our political benefit; it'll help to maintain peace around the world; it'll provide more harmony within our own country between labor and business, between the private sector and Government. The advantages are overwhelming, and the disadvantages are very few.
When I came into office, the so-called Tokyo Round of the Multilateral Trade Negotiations were in a dormant stage or worse. I think there was a sense of hopelessness when I met with the other Western democratic leaders in London 2 years ago and Bonn, Germany, a year ago, that nothing could be done. Under the superb leadership of Robert Strauss, we have now concluded agreements which are of great benefit to Americans.
The top legislative priority for me this year in international economics will be the early ratification of the Multilateral Trade Negotiations by the Congress. We're trying to work out agreements with the congressional leaders so that this will not be delayed. And I want to be sure that when this obvious advantage to American exporters is consummated into law, that our American producers are ready to take advantage of it.
Obstacles to American goods going overseas will be removed or drastically reduced, and some of the abuses that have been prevalent in imports from foreign countries will also be substantially eliminated. And we must be ready to take advantage of this good opportunity.
The last point I want to make to this group, who are so interested and so competent and who'll play such a major role in the future, is that the Export Administration Act will be renewed this year. There's been a great deal of controversy about this act. What we want to have is sure and prompt export licensing combined with an adequate reserve authority for the President to protect our national security. And the balancing of these two items is one that I feel sure can be better assured because of the new Export Council that's being established this morning.
I want to thank all the members who have expressed your willingness to serve. I think from my brief remarks you can see the breadth of responsibility which will now be on your shoulders. I welcome a chance to form this new partnership. It'll take part of the burdens off me, and I think it will eliminate future problems that we might otherwise have had to face because of a lack of planning and cooperation. It'll help to alleviate the problems that we now face, and it'll make it possible for us in the future to demonstrate, through vigorous action, that the free enterprise system of the United States is the best economic system on Earth.
Thank you very much.