Ronald Reagan picture

Radio Address to the Nation on Free and Fair Trade

August 02, 1986

My fellow Americans:

It's sometimes said that if you put three economists together in a room and ask them a question, you're liable to get more than three answers. It's true, economists don't often agree. But there is one issue on which almost all responsible economists, whatever their political persuasion, are unanimous. They agree that free and fair trade brings growth and opportunity and creates jobs. And they all warn that high trade barriers, what is often called protectionism, undermines economic growth and destroys jobs. I don't call it protectionism; I call it destructionism.

That's why our motto is: free and fair trade with free and fair traders. Now, we've seen that governments sometimes don't play by the rules. They keep exports out of subsidy—or subsidize, I should say, industries, giving them an unfair advantage. Well, our patience with unfair trade isn't endless, and we're taking action to bring other nations back in line to ensure that free trade remains fair trade. We're aggressively using existing trade laws to pry open foreign markets and force others to play by the rules. This week, for instance, we signed a breakthrough trade agreement that'll open up Japanese markets to U.S. semiconductors and prevent the Japanese from dumping semiconductors in our markets. And last month, after intensive negotiations in response to a deadline I set, the European Community agreed to keep its market open to U.S. farm exports.

These agreements are examples of positive, result-oriented trade action. Instead of closing markets at home, we've opened markets to U.S. products abroad, thus helping to create more American jobs. Instead of erecting destructionist import barriers, we're tearing down foreign barriers to make trade freer and fairer for all. Because, believe me, when Americans are competing on a level playing field, they can outproduce and outsell anyone, anywhere in the world. We've been tough with those nations who've been unfair in their trading practices, and that toughness has produced results. And with hard-pressed industries like textiles and apparel that have gone through difficult times, we've taken strong action to help. We renegotiated agreements with Taiwan and Hong Kong over a year early to expand product coverage and tighten controls of imports from those countries. We are pursuing negotiations with Korea to tighten restraints on their exports to us and improve opportunities for our producers in their market. And just this week we completed a tough, new multifiber arrangement with our trading partners that will include products not previously covered and which gives us tools to prevent damaging import surges. This is result-oriented action.

What doesn't bring results is the sort of destructionist legislation now before the House of Representatives. Next week the House will vote on whether to override my veto of a textile trade bill, and I'm hopeful this won't happen. My Council of Economic Advisers estimates this bill would cost you, the consumer, $44 billion over the next 5 years: $70,000 for every job saved, jobs that pay about $13,000 on average. Even worse, these temporarily protected jobs would be more than offset by the loss of thousands of other jobs—jobs in retail, marketing, and finance and jobs directly related to importing, such as dockworkers and transportation workers. And then there are all those who would be thrown out of work as we began to feel the effects of foreign retaliation, and you can bet there would be retaliation. I'm thinking, especially, of our struggling agricultural sector and its many connected industries. At a time when we're trying to increase agricultural exports, let's remember that some of the first victims of retaliation would be our farmers—kicking them when they're already down.

So, our trade policy remains a positive one that will not play off one region against another or one American worker against another, doing grievous damage to the industries involved. In trying to help workers in ailing industries, we must be careful that the cure is not worse than the disease, like the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariffs that deepened and prolonged the Great Depression. The best way to help is with the progrowth policies of free and fair trade that have created more than 10 million new jobs in the last 3 1/2 years. In the last 7 months 1,650,000 people have found jobs in the United States. There's more than Europe and Japan combined in the last 10 years. And by the way, recently released figures show the leading economic indicators are up and unemployment has dropped to 6.8 percent. You know, the Europeans talk about the American miracle of economic growth and job creation. Well, I'm going to do everything I can to keep that miracle of hope alive, creating jobs and opportunities for all Americans.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.

Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on Free and Fair Trade Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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