Ronald Reagan picture

Radio Address to the Nation on International Free Trade

November 20, 1982

My fellow Americans:

I've talked to you on a number of occasions about the economic problems and opportunities our nation faces. Well, as you've probably heard on news reports, America's problems are not unique. Other nations face very severe economic difficulties. In fact, both developed and developing countries alike have been in the grip of the longest worldwide recession in postwar history. And that's bad news for all of us. When other countries don't grow, they buy less from us, and we see fewer jobs created at home. When we don't grow, we buy less from them, which weakens their economies and, of course, their ability to buy from us. It's a vicious cycle.

You can understand the danger of worldwide recession when you realize how much is at stake. Exports account for over 5 million jobs in the United States. Two out of every five acres planted by American farmers produce crops for exports. But because of their recessions, other countries are buying fewer American farm products than last year. Our farmers are hurting—and they're just one group.

So, we are trying to turn this situation around. We're reminding the world that, yes, we all have serious problems. But our economic system—based on individual freedom, private initiative, and free trade—has produced more human progress than any other in history. It is in all of our interests to preserve it, protect it, and strengthen it.

We are reminding our trading partners that preserving individual freedom and restoring prosperity also requires free and fair trade in the marketplace. The United States took the lead after World War II in creating an international trading and financial system that limited governments' ability to disrupt free trade across borders. We did this because history had taught us an important lesson: Free trade serves the cause of economic progress, and it serves the cause of world peace.

When governments get too involved in trade, economic costs increase and political disputes multiply. Peace is threatened. In the 1930's, the world experienced an ugly specter—protectionism and trade wars and, eventually, real wars and unprecedented suffering and loss of life.

There are some who seem to believe that we should run up the American flag in defense of our markets. They would embrace protectionism again and insulate our markets from world competition. Well, the last time the United States tried that, there was enormous economic distress in the world. World trade fell by 60 percent, and young Americans soon followed the American flag into World War II.

I'm old enough and, hopefully, wise enough not to forget the lessons of those unhappy years. The world must never live through such a nightmare again. We're in the same boat with our trading partners. If one partner shoots a hole in the boat, does it make sense for the other one to shoot another hole in the boat? Some say, yes, and call that getting tough. Well, I call it stupid. We shouldn't be shooting holes; we should be working together to plug them up. We must strengthen the boat of free markets and fair trade so it can lead the world to economic recovery and greater political stability.

And here's how we're working to do that: We insist on sound domestic policies at home that bring down inflation, and we look to others for no less in their own economies. The International Monetary Fund, the institution that deals with world financial issues, seeks to encourage its member countries to follow sound domestic policies and avoid government restrictions on international trade and investment to foster economic development and raise their people's standard of living.

We remind other countries that as the U.S. helps to lead the world out of this recession, they will benefit as we buy more goods from them. This will enable them to grow and buy more goods from us. And that will mean more jobs all around. That is the way of free markets and free trade. We must resist protectionism because it can only lead to fewer jobs for them and fewer jobs for us.

In just 4 days, the Trade Ministers of virtually all the free world countries will meet in Geneva, Switzerland. They will seek ways to surmount challenges to the integrity of our international economic system. We were instrumental in convening this international meeting because we believe strongly that our trading system is at a crossroads. Either free world countries go forward and sustain the drive toward more open markets, or they risk sliding back toward the mistakes of the 1930's and succumbing to the evils of more and more government intervention. And this is really no choice at all.

The United States will reject protectionist and defeatist proposals. Instead, we will set new goals and lay out a program for limiting government intervention in world markets. We will lead with a clear sense of our own commercial interests and a quiet determination to defend these interests. We will take actions at home and abroad which enhance the ability of United States industries to compete in international trade.

Let no one misunderstand us. We're generous and farsighted in our goals, and we intend to use our full power to achieve these goals. We seek to plug the holes in the boat of free markets and free trade and get it moving again in the direction of prosperity. And no one should mistake our determination to use our full power and influence to prevent others from destroying the boat and sinking us all.

That's how the United States is working in the world on behalf of freedom, economic prosperity, and peace.

I'll be back again next week. Thanks for listening. God bless you.

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

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

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