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Remarks on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

November 28, 1994

Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. Jim Miller and Jim Baker, thank you for your moving and compelling remarks. Mr. Speaker, Leader Michel, Members of the Congress, members of the Cabinet, and to all of you who have come here from previous administrations and from different walks of life, proving that this GATT agreement not only tears down trade barriers, it also bulldozes differences of party, philosophy, and ideology: I thank you all for being here.

We have certainly demonstrated today that there is no partisan pride of ownership in the GATT agreement. It is not a Republican agreement or a Democratic one. It is an American agreement, designed to benefit all the American people in every region of our country from every walk of life.

Jim Baker spoke so eloquently about how this represents yet another historic choice for the United States in the 20th century. When we walked away from our leadership and engagement responsibilities, as we did after the First World War, the world has paid a terrible price.

When we have attempted to lead, as we did after the Second World War, it has not only helped the world, it has helped the people of the United States. We saw the greatest expansion of the middle class in our country and prosperity for working families in our country in the years after we tried to put together a system that would preserve peace and security and promote prosperity after World War II.

We have done as much as we could here at home to try to deal with the difficult and daunting economic challenges we face, to bring the deficit down, to shrink the size of the Government, to simultaneously increase our investment in education and technology and defense conversion. But we know that without the capacity to expand trade and to generate more economic opportunities we will, first of all, not be able to fulfill our global responsibilities and, secondly, not be able to fulfill our responsibilities to the American people.

I'd like to address a third argument, if I might, just from my heart. It's been raised against this agreement and raised against NAFTA. Jim Miller adequately disposed of the arguments that this is a budget buster and that this somehow impinges on our sovereignty. That isn't true. And he did a very compelling job of that. But let me say there is another big argument against this trade agreement that no one has advanced today but that is underlying all of this. And I saw it in an article the other day written by a columnist generally sympathetic to me. He said, "There he goes again with one of his crazy, self-defeating economic ideas, pushing this GATT agreement, which is one more prescription for the demise of the lower wage working people in America, which is the reason the Democratic Party's in the trouble it's in today, doing things like this that just kill working people."

That is a wrong argument. But that is really the undercurrent against this GATT. The idea is that since we live in a global economy and there are people other places who can work for wages we can't live on, if we open our markets to them, they will displace our workers and they will aggravate the most troubling trend in modern American life, which is that the wages of non-college-educated male workers in the United States have declined by 12 percent after you take account of inflation in the last 10 years.

Now, that has great superficial appeal. Why is it wrong? It's wrong because, number one, if we don't do anything, we'll have some displacement from foreign competition. But if we move and lead, we will open other markets to our products. And our Nation has gone through a wrenching period over the last several years of improving its productivity, its ability to compete. We can now sell and compete anywhere.

When we did NAFTA, they made the same argument. What's happened? A hundred thousand new jobs this year. What's happened? A 500 percent increase in exports of American automobiles to Mexico. What's the biggest complaint in Detroit now? The autoworkers have too much overtime they have to do. If you think about where we were 10 years ago, that's what, at home, we call a high-class problem. [Laughter]

Now, that is the problem we face in America. And the resentments of people who keep working harder and falling further behind and feel like they've played by the rules and they've gotten the shaft, they will play themselves out, these resentments, in election after election after election in different and unpredictable ways, just like they did in 1992 and 1994. But our responsibility is to do what is right for those people over the long run. That is our responsibility. And the only way to do that is to open other markets to American products and services, even as we open our markets to them.

Yes, we have to improve the level of lifetime training and education for the American work force. Yes, we have to deal with some of the serious, particular problems of the American economy. But in the end, the private sector in this country and the working people of this country will do their jobs if they have half a shot at the high-growth areas of the world. And what are the highest growth areas of the world? Not the wealthy advanced economies but Latin America, Asia, and other places.

GATT, along with NAFTA and what we're trying to do with the Asian-Pacific countries and what we're going to try to do at the Summit of the Americas, this keeps America leading the world in ways that permits us to do both things we have to do at the end of the cold war, to continue to be engaged, to continue to lead, to work toward a more peaceful and secure and prosperous world, and at the same time to deal with the terrible, nagging difficulties that so many millions of American families face today.

There is no other way to deal with this. There is no easy way out. There is no slogan that makes the problem go away. This will help to solve the underlying anxiety that millions and millions of Americans face and, I might add, millions of Europeans and millions of Japanese and others in advanced economies all around the world, and at the same time make the world a better place and the future more secure for our children.

And we have to do it now. We can't wait until next year. We don't want to litter it up like a Christmas tree and run the risk of losing it. Every time I talked to a world leader in the last 6 months, they have asked me the same thing: When is the United States going to act on GATT? The rest of the world is looking at us.

So we have a golden opportunity here to add $1,700 in income to the average family's income in this country over the next few years, to create hundreds of thousands of high-wage jobs, to have the biggest global tax cut in history, and to fulfill our two responsibilities, our responsibility to lead and remain engaged in the world and our responsibility to try to help the people here at home to get ahead. We need to get on with it and do it now.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:38 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to former Office of Management and Budget Director James C. Miller III and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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