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Remarks on NAFTA to Gillette Employees in Boston, Massachusetts

October 29, 1993

Thank you very much. I've had a good time here today. I'm a satisfied customer, that's true. And I rarely cut myself, and when I do, it's my fault, not yours. [Laughter]

Mr. Zeien and Governor Weld, Senator Kennedy, Senator Kerry, Congressman Moakley, Congressman Kennedy, and my other friends here today. This was a good experience for me for a lot of reasons. I've had a wonderful day today. We dedicated the Kennedy Museum over at the Kennedy Library. I urge you all to go and see it. It's wonderful, improved, accessible. It's terrific. And they even put a little clip of me in there talking, so I like it better. [Laughter]

And I spoke at the Kennedy Library about the challenges that President Kennedy faced over 30 years ago: trying to get America to solve its problems here at home, which at that time were largely the problems of civil rights, and still to be adventuresome when looking toward the future; when he launched the space program, which we're trying to keep alive and keep going today; when he agreed to establish and push for the establishment of the Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress in Latin America; and when he started a trade adjustment program for people who lost their jobs in trade because he knew that if we did it right, we'd always have more winners than losers, but people who lost their jobs should be retrained so they could get new and different jobs. And this is the kind of replay in some ways of that time, with a more complex and difficult set of problems.

I feel right at home here, when before—I tell people, back when I had a life, before I became President—I was the Governor of what my opponent in the last election called "a small southern State" that had 22 percent of its work force in manufacturing. And my job was essentially schools and jobs. That's what I did for a living. I was in plants all the time; I frequently worked shifts in plants. I understand a little bit about machine tools and how they work and how they're adjusted. I now know what a bam, a cam, and a pam is.

I had some plants when I was the Governor of my State that shut down and went to Mexico. And because it was a small State, I knew who they were and what they did for a living. I was quite proud of the fact that before I left office, I brought one of them back, because our people were doing a better job in productivity and product modification, just like you are.

And so I want to talk a little bit today just as briefly as I can, because Mr. Zeien has already said how this plant and this company will benefit if NAFTA passes. Everybody knows there will be some winners and some losers. But there's a lot of sort of fogginess about why this is good for America or why it's bad. And I want to go through this because I need your help. And the Congress needs your help, not his help. With all due respect to him, Members of Congress know most business people are for NAFTA, but they can figure out that if you're smart and you're running a business, you can benefit six and one-half dozen of the other. That is, you could benefit in Mexico or in the U.S. So the Members of Congress want to know that you're going to win if it passes. And you hired them; so they should want to know if you're going to win, right? They work for you, just like I do.

The first thing I want to say is, I have lived with the manufacturing changes of the last 15 years. And I would never knowingly do anything that would cost Americans jobs.

I am for this agreement for quite a few reasons. The first and big reason is this: There is no evidence whatever that a wealthy country cannot only grow wealthier but can actually create jobs and raise incomes unless it expands trade and promotes the growth of the global economy. Why? Because if you have a stagnant economy, when, as you know, you can move money around the world in a millisecond—technology can be adapted around the world, management can be moved around the world—if you have a stagnant economy and poorer countries are growing with new manufacturing, that means that people in richer countries will work harder for less money.

That is exactly what has happened in the United States for 20 years. A lot of hourly wage earners have worked harder for lower wages. But guess what, it's happening everywhere. If you look at Europe where there's no growth today, if you look at France even when they had growth, the unemployment rate in the last 5 years never going below 9.5 percent, it is clear that a wealthy country can only grow wealthier in terms of jobs and income at a time when the global economy is growing and they are selling more of their products and services beyond their borders as well as within their borders. Nobody has ever been able to demonstrate the contrary to me in the modern world.

So therefore, one of our biggest problems in America today is no growth in Europe, no growth in Japan. One of our biggest opportunities is that Latin America, including Mexico, is the second fastest growing part of the world. And it's right here handy, and they like to buy our products.

The second thing I want to say is this: A lot of the problems people have with this NAFTA agreement they have because they believe that the present relationships we have with Mexico have encouraged people, because wages and cost of production are lower there, to go to what is called the maquilladora area. It's right across the American border in Mexico. If you produce there, you can send your product back into our country duty-free. We created that several years ago since we wanted to help Mexico grow. But in the 1980's when the global economy got really tough and the screws were tightened on company after company after company, a lot of people said, "Okay, we'll move down there."

Now, here's the second reason I'm for NAFTA. All the problems associated with the maquilladora issue will get better if we adopt it, and they won't if we don't. That is, forget about selling razor blades in Mexico. Just imagine what's going on to the plants that have moved down there. If this agreement passes, labor costs in Mexico will go up more rapidly, environmental costs will go up more rapidly. Their requirement that products sold in Mexico be produced in Mexico will be reduced. We'll go from selling one to 50,000 or 60,000 American cars in the first year this agreement goes into effect. Their tariffs will go down.

So I understand the resentments, the fears, the insecurities of people, probably a lot of them who work within 20 miles of this plant. But we've got to read the agreement. The agreement makes those problems better, not worse. And that's the other reason I'm for it.

Finally, just let me say this: There will be some people who will be dislocated. There always are. If you have a trade agreement, just as President Kennedy recognized in 1962, there always are. I intend to ask the Congress to literally revolutionize the unemployment and the training system in this country.

You know, the average person who loses their job today does not get called back to the same company. That's the way it was for 40 years. It's not true anymore. The average person who loses a job today has to go find a job with a different company. Often it's a very different kind of job.

I agree with what Senator Kerry said: It's one thing to talk about changing work seven times in a lifetime and another thing to do it. If every one of you stays with Gillette until you retire, I'll bet you anything you'll have to change what you do. If every one of you stays with this company—some of you are quite young—for 20, 30, 40 years, you know as well as I do, 10 years from now the nature of your work will be different than it is today, even if you have the same employer. Isn't that right?

I know how different these machines are. How long ago was it when there wasn't anybody on an assembly line reading a computer? How long ago was it that you had to do all your quality checks visually and it took longer and not as well? I mean, the world is changing.

So as cruel or tough as it is, we can't pretend that it's not going to happen. You could—if we can't get all our titles straightened out, you could give us all—we could all shift and take one another's job and we couldn't repeal the changes. They're going to happen.

So we have to decide, are we going to make these changes our friend or our enemy? Or are we going to have more Gillettes or more plants close down? Are we going to find more markets so we can secure the jobs we've got, add more jobs, and so companies can afford to give pay raises to their employees, or not? That is what is at stake.

There are a lot of misconceptions about Mexico. A lot of people say, "Well, we've got a trade surplus with them now, but only because they're buying our plant and machinery so they can put up plants that 5 years from now they'll be shipping all this stuff back here, and we'll have a trade deficit." Let me tell you something: 40 percent of the dollar value of our exports in the entire world are in capital goods, that is, things that can be used in manufacturing; 60 percent in consumer products. But in Mexico, only 33 percent of their purchases of our products are in capital goods; two-thirds in consumer products, like razor blades; two-thirds— more than the global average. That country now is the second biggest purchaser of American products. There's 90 million people there, and they're handy.

And you say, "Well, what do they get out of this deal?" I'll tell you what they get out of this deal. If we adopt this deal, it will be safer and more secure and more attractive for Americans to invest in Mexico, not along the border to export to America but down in Mexico City or over in Vera Cruz or in other places to put them to work making products for themselves. And that's good for you, too. Why? Because if more of them have jobs and the more income they've got, the more products of ours they can buy.

Now, we have a trade problem in America today, but it's not with Mexico, and it's not with Latin America. Tiny Colombia has increased their purchases of American products 69 and 64 percent in the last 2 years. What's our trade problem: $49 billion trade deficit with Japan; $19 billion trade deficit with China; $9 billion trade deficit with Taiwan. We've got a $5.7 billion trade surplus with Mexico, and we're worried about them, when they want to buy more of our products?

Look, the people that are against this have legitimate fears and resentments and anger. There were a lot of workers that were thrown in the streets over the last 15 or 20 years. We have gone through two decades when a lot of hourly workers never got a pay raise. We are having a tough time creating jobs and income. But we don't want to cut off our nose to spite our face. We can't let this trade agreement become the flypaper that catches all those fears, because it will make it better not worse.

So I say, if you believe that, because you know what the experience of this company is, I want you to sit down and write a letter, not a pressure letter but a nice letter. Really, just two lines, to the Senators, to the Congressmen, or collect them all up and send them here and let them send them in. But they need to know that there's somebody out here in Massachusetts, somebody out here in south Boston, somebody in the entire United States that's going to make a living out of this deal, that understands that we're going to get more jobs and higher incomes and more opportunities if we do this. Because if we turn it away, it's really going to be a terrible thing.

You know, we actually get a trade advantage over the Japanese and the Europeans in Mexico if this passes? And if it fails and they still need the money to develop their country, what are we going to do, what's Gillette going to do in Mexico if they turn around and give that trade advantage to somebody else? If they offer this same deal to somebody else, I'll guarantee you the Japanese, the European Community would take this deal in a heartbeat. This is a good deal. It is no accident that the Ministry of Trade in Japan has come out against this deal. It is a good thing for us.

So I ask you to talk to your friends and neighbors, talk to the people who are worried about it, tell them their fears are well-founded, but they don't have anything to do with this agreement. This agreement will make it better. And meanwhile, we will keep working to build the security that Americans need.

We've already had more private sector jobs come into this economy in 9 months than in the previous 4 years. We're tackling the health care issue. We're tackling the deficit issue. Interest rates are at a 30-year low. We are moving in the right direction. But I'm telling you, nothing I do as your President within the borders of the United States can create more jobs and higher incomes unless somebody buys the stuff we produce. And that requires us to expand our market. Help us to do that by personally telling the Members of Congress you'd appreciate it if they vote for the NAFTA agreement.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:20 p.m. on the factory floor. In his remarks, he referred to Alfred M. Zeien, CEO, Gillette Co.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on NAFTA to Gillette Employees in Boston, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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