Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks on Signing Into Law the Trade Agreements Act of 1979

July 26, 1979

THE PRESIDENT. I think the number of people who are assembled here and the kind of people who are assembled here in the Rose Garden is-indicative of the importance of the legislation that I am about to sign.

I will sign into law in a few minutes perhaps the most important and farreaching piece of trade legislation in the history of the United States.

The Trade Agreements Act of 1979 received an overwhelming, bipartisan mandate from both Houses of the United States Congress. And this is an achievement of cooperation that's almost unprecedented between the executive branch of Government, the Congress, business, labor, farmers, consumers, others interested in the economic strength of our country. This degree of unity and cooperation sets a prime example, a demonstration of what we can do during these troubled times when divisiveness is so often a part of the American scene.

I'd like to pause here and make a very important observation. I know that everyone will agree with what I am about to say. Special Trade Ambassador Robert Strauss did a masterful job throughout the Tokyo negotiations and throughout the equally important negotiations with the United States Congress, and I want to congratulate him. As modest as he is- [laughter] —I knew that if I didn't make that comment, it might go unmade. [Laughter]

I would like to say as President, though, that the first time I went to an economic summit meeting in London, there was a general knowledge—not belief—that the Tokyo Round that might lead to this momentous achievement had reached a dead end and that it was very unlikely that it would ever be revived. I don't know of anyone else who could have done it except Bob Strauss. And the other leaders of the Western industrial nations have all expressed to me the same sentiments, that without Bob Strauss, from the United States, it would not have been possible.

I particularly want to praise the efforts of Chairman Russell Long and Abraham Ribicoff, of Bill Roth and Bob Dole in the Senate and of Chairman Al Ullman and Charlie Vanik, Barber Conable, Bill Frenzel in the House, and many others, both Democrats and Republicans, who put aside partisanship in order to work harmoniously for the best interests of our Nation.

We truly live in an interdependent world. Our dependence on foreign oil is one example of this. But this is just part of the picture. Today, one-third of all the agricultural acreage in our country is used to produce food and fiber for people who live outside the United States. One out of seven of our manufacturing jobs in this country go to produce goods which are sold overseas. The strength of the dollar is determined to a major degree by how successful we are in developing new markets for American goods. This legislation, which I will sign in a few minutes, will open up vast new opportunities for American exports.

The Trade Agreements Act of 1979 builds upon the foundation of one of the most highly publicized and well-known achievements of the Kennedy administration, the passage of similar legislation in 1962. This new legislation strengthens and solidifies America's position in the international trade community. It will revise the rules of international trade to create a fairer and more equitable and more open environment for world trade.

This legislation will remove the barriers for fair trade and will reduce unfair trade practices which sometimes cheat those and hamper those who are interested in improving the quality of the world economy.

The trade reorganization proposal, which I have now presented to the Congress to change the mechanism within the Federal Government of dealing with trade, will strengthen the ability. of our own Government to take advantage of these new opportunities described in the legislation on my left and will let us administer the provisions of this act more effectively.

Our Nation has the most productive economy which the world has ever known. Our agricultural abundance and our technological leadership are important sources of America's innate, unshakable strength. This legislation will help our manufactured goods and our agricultural products to become more fully competitive on the world market.

This legislation will also help us to preserve peace and prosperity. Expanded international trade brings strength and growth to economies throughout the world. It enhances understanding, it opens up thousands of unpublicized avenues of consultation and cooperation and the sharing of responsibility which quite often can help to alleviate political tensions and eliminated divisions that sometimes make international borders an obstacle rather than an avenue for cooperation.

Peace and expansion of human rights are natural byproducts of this lessening of tension and this increase of an acknowledged and productive interdependence. Increased American exports will mean new jobs for American workers, new markets for American business, more secure income for American farmers, a strengthened American dollar, and lower costs for American consumers.

We all share the goal of a prosperous and secure America at peace with the world. This legislation provides us with an important milestone in preserving and promoting the economic strength and the political strength of the Nation we all love so much.

On behalf of the people of our country, I would like to thank those assembled here for the roles that you have played in making this momentous achievement possible. Thank you very much.

[At this point, the President signed the bill.]

We've got a new law.

AMBASSADOR STRAUSS. Mr. President, distinguished guests in the Congress, other dear friends in the Government:

First, Mr. President, for myself and for my two primary colleagues, Ambassadors Wolff and McDonald, for all of our staffs out there and our other colleagues throughout the Government, for the country itself, I want to say to you what I have said on many occasions, that this truly has been a classic example of how the system can work. And at the forefront of that was your willingness to do the courageous, the tough, and take the tenacious positions that sometimes were less than popular. You took them in London, you took them in Bonn, and, more importantly, you took them all across America. You never choked, and the people who were representing you in the Congress, in the executive branch, Republicans or Democrats alike, never choked. And it's for that reason we have this bill.

And may I now say very quickly one additional thing. I know it's wrong, but to try to single out a few—I mentioned Ambassador McDonald, who was in Geneva, Ambassador Wolff who was here. I see Julius Katz in the State Department, Dale Hathaway from the Agriculture Department; I see so many others. And for all of your staffs, I always seem to have a habit of getting a good deal more credit than most people think I deserve—not always more than I think I deserve. [Laughter]

But I do know who made all of this possible for the President and for our country, and, indeed, for the world, and it's all of you. And on a very personal basis, even though it's in this rather large group, I say to you, thank you, each, very much, and God bless us all and the country.

Thank you.

SENATOR LONG. Mr. President, I feel that this occasion vindicates my judgment that occurred before you took the oath of office as President. I fought to see that the Special Trade Representative would be a Cabinet-level job. And without that I don't think you could have gotten Bob Strauss for the job, and without that this effort might have failed.

THE PRESIDENT. Bob has always considered himself to be above the Cabinet. [Laughter] I hope he won't be offended by what you said. [Laughter]

SENATOR LONG. Well, we worked on this for a long time, and I think that after 4 years, all those of us on the Finance Committee and the Ways and Means Committee are extremely proud. We have to commend every Member. But in particular, I want to commend my dear friend and a great statesman, Abe Ribicoif, the chairman of our trade subcommittee, for the fine work he did on the Senate side, and the same goes for all the members of the committee—but Senator Ribicoff worked especially hard on that, and a great deal of this success is due to him.
Thank you.

REPRESENTATIVE ULLMAN. Mr. President, I want to echo the commendation that you have made for the Ambassador and all those that assisted him; also for Charlie Vanik, chairman of our trade subcommittee, Russell Long, Abe Ribicoif, Guy Vander Jagt, Bill Frenzel, all of the people who—and, of course, Barber Conable—who participated in a major bipartisan effort. This, indeed, should set an example and should set the pace for other things we're doing in areas that are vital to the future security of America.

I well remember back in the summer of '73, when the Ways and Means Committee met long hours, hard decisions, drafting a creative new piece of legislation that took a totally new approach to the whole problem of trade. And we set up a procedure during those bard months that laid out for the Congress a timetable without which we would not be here today. And so, I think this whole effort from the very beginning to the end should be studied as an example for other decisions that we can make in this Government, at a very critical time when we're going to all have to begin working together better than we have sometimes in the past.
Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT. I want to thank all of you again and particularly the Members of Congress. It would be nice if I could call on many others, because there were so many who played leadership roles. But because of the press of time and because there are so many who had a role in this, I think I'll thank the rest of them from the bottom of my heart for the great role they played and all of you played in making this momentous achievement possible.

Thank you very much, everyone.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. at the ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House.

As enacted, H.R. 4537 is Public Law 96-39, approved July 26.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks on Signing Into Law the Trade Agreements Act of 1979 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249785

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