Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a White House Briefing for Members of the American Business Conference

March 23, 1988

Thank you. And I was listening, and I almost didn't come out here. [Laughter] Well, thank you, and thank you all, and welcome once again to the White House complex.

You know as well as I do that Washington isn't always the easiest city in which to achieve a sense of shared purpose or common vision. Indeed, I'm often reminded of Harry Truman's famous comment on our Nation's Capital. He said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." [Laughter] But between this administration and the American Business Conference, there has been true friendship from the very first. It's been a friendship based not upon politics but upon convictions: the conviction, above all, that it's in economic freedom that men and women can give the fullest expression of their inborn creativity; that it's an economic freedom that leads most directly to economic productivity and growth.

In 1981 ABC was a cofounding member of the Tax Action Group, a group that proved crucial in convincing Congress to pass our historic tax cut. This means that you not only participated in the shaping not only of American history but of world history. For, I don't know whether you're aware of it, but the tax cut revolution has spread to nations as diverse as India, Indonesia, and Canada. And it was just last week that the British unveiled in the House of Commons tax reform for Great Britain—a reform that I'm convinced will contribute to the already growing British economy. England may be the mother of parliaments, but from the Boston Tea Party to this administration, it's the United States that has been the mother of tax revolts. You know, that's a pretty good line. I can hardly wait to try it out on Margaret Thatcher. [Laughter]

In 1983 I made a trip to Boston to demonstrate our commitment to high-tech entrepreneurship. I stopped at the Millipore Corporation and spent most of a full and happy day listening to America's winning companies and their formulas for economic growth. In 1984 you of ABC issued your historic study on the cost of capital, a study that gave us vital clues on how to keep our economic recovery gaining strength. In 1985 it was while addressing you that I warned the would-be tax hikers in Congress that I had my veto pen at the ready and dared them to make my day. In 1986 ABC played a key role in passing Gramm-Rudman-Hollings and our historic tax reform. In 1987 you of ABC took a lead role in forming COMET [Coalition for Open Markets and Expanded Trade], the free trade coalition, a coalition that, from its inception, has helped me to stave off protectionist legislation. And now in 1988 you of ABC represent one of the leading advocates of the trade accord between the United States and Canada, one of the most important trade agreements ever concluded.

And in a moment, I'd like to discuss world trade with you in some detail. But before I do so, it's clear from all I've just said that we have indeed been through a great deal together, you and I. And I just want to pause for a moment and let you know how much your friendship and support have meant to me, and to say: From my heart, I thank you.

Yet there's a great deal still to do in these remaining 10 months, and so to get on with business, let's consider for a moment America's role in international trade. Now, you'd think the United States never exported so much as a paper clip. The truth is that today America can claim surging manufacturing exports, the longest peacetime expansion on record, and the reality that more Americans are at work today than ever before. And in today's climate, I can just see some of those people out there saying, "Oh, yes, but that's because of the increase in population." Well, there's an answer to that. We have the highest percentage of the potential work pool employed than ever in the history of our nation. So, that takes care of the increase in population charge.

But the critics never learn. Since the third quarter of 1986 the volume of American exports has been growing some 4 times as fast as the volume of imports. And much of this export surge is in manufacturing exports. Industry after industry is finding itself in an export boom. As Business Week magazine reported recently: "Basic manufacturers, once considered a dying breed, are selling products many thought wouldn't even be made in the United States any longer-escalators to Taiwan, machine tools to West Germany, lumber to Japan, and shoes to Italy." Well, the dollar's helped, of course. But what's happening here goes beyond the dollar.

Since 1980 the United States manufacturing economy has increased its productivity more than 3 times as much as in the previous 7 years. The result is that, as one German manufacturing expert put it recently, the United States is "the best country in the world in terms of manufacturing costs." Well, all of this adds up to one thing, as another economics writer reported recently: "One of the best kept secrets in economic circles these days is that the Reagan administration"—thank you—"could end with a bang, not a whimper, as the Nation makes an apparently successful shift to an export-led economy." And I rehearsed some of those remarks before I came in, and it's absolutely true. I have not quacked once. [Laughter]

Too many backers of the trade bill currently under consideration in Congress talk about making America more competitive, but support provisions that would do just the opposite. They talk about saving jobs, but they want provisions that have the potential to destroy thousands, if not millions, of American jobs. We've listed our objections to this bill in detail for the House-Senate conference members. My veto pen remains ready and available if the final work product of the conference remains antitrade, anticonsumer, antijobs, and antigrowth. But my hope, which I believe you share, is that I won't have to use that pen.

Now, you all know that the House-Senate conference on the trade bill is working away and plans to finish its job soon. The conference process got off to a good, constructive start earlier this month; however, many objectionable provisions remain, including proposed procedural changes in the law. But I'm hopeful that in the next phase these will be jettisoned. Only wholesale elimination of many of the existing items will produce a bill that I can sign.

But there's another vital trade matter before the Congress, one that gives the Congress the opportunity to take positive and, indeed, historical action. I refer, of course, to our free trade agreement with Canada. Already, our two nations generate the world's largest volume of trade. Canada is by far our largest trading partner. And consider this one fact alone: The United States exports more to the province of Ontario than to the entire country of Japan. With this agreement, Canada and the United States will be the largest free trade area on Earth. As Prime Minister Mulroney has said: "It will bring us to a new decade and a new century, on the leading edge of the world's trade and commerce."

Well, we're tearing down the walls, the tariffs, that block the flow of trade and eliminating the tangle of restrictions and regulations that bind our commerce and inhibit economic cooperation. As this agreement takes effect, Americans and Canadians will conduct business, invest, and trade where they like, rejecting beggar-thy-neighbor policies, and putting aside special interests in favor of the common interest. We've broken new territory by covering areas, such as investment and services, traditionally beyond the scope of trade agreements. What better example could there be for the GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] Uruguay round, which is currently underway in Geneva. But success will depend in large part on people like you who are willing to operate in a truly free environment for trade and investment. And I'll be looking for your support in obtaining congressional approval for this historic, path-breaking agreement.

Now, I know it's bad manners to quote oneself, so please forgive me if I read you a few lines from a speech I delivered all the way back in November of 1979: "A developing closeness between the United States, Canada, and Mexico could serve notice on friend and foe alike that we're prepared for a long haul, looking outward again and confident of our future; that together we're going to create jobs, to generate new fortunes of wealth for many, and provide a legacy for the children of each of our countries. Two hundred years ago, we taught the world that a new form of government, created out of the genius of man to cope with his circumstances, could succeed in bringing a measure of quality to human life previously thought impossible." Well, let us dare to dream, I said, of some future date, when the map of the world shows a North American continent united in commerce, committed to freedom where borders become what the U.S.-Canadian border is today: a meeting place rather than a dividing line.

My friends, I look forward to working with you once again in behalf of the economic freedom in which we both so deeply believe. Yes, let us dare to dream, and let us work on to make our dreams come true.

I'm going to finish with just one thing. I know I should have quit long ago, but it's just a little item that, during the war when I was flying a desk for the Air Corps, in uniform— [laughter] —I came across something that has been kind of a symbol of government to me and its mistakes. There was a warehouse full of filing cabinets. Someone had inspected them and found that they didn't even have historical interest, and there was no absolute use to them whatsoever. So, in that military type of correspondence, we started up through the channels a letter requesting permission to destroy those files so that we could use those file eases for things current. And all the way it went up, being endorsed, till finally the top level. And then it came back down being endorsed all the way, permission granted for the destruction of those files providing copies are made of each one. [Laughter]

Oh, thank you. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:01 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Briefing for Members of the American Business Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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