[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[November 10, 1998]
[Pages 2007-2011]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the National Townhall Meeting on Trade
November 10, 1998

    Thank you. Well, Lionel, you did a great job. The first thing I 
asked him today was whether or not his speech was going to be beamed 
into his school. [Laughter] I love Brooklyn. I've been to Senator-elect 
Schumer's home. I've spent a lot of time in Brooklyn. Neither Chuck 
Schumer nor I would have the courage to leave our electorate on election 
day. [Laughter] And you did, and for that reason alone I hope that you 
are rewarded. I'm glad you're with us.
    I want to welcome the other student leaders and teachers, business 
people here today and those joining us by satellite and the Internet. 
I'd like to thank Mike Armstrong for his great leadership of the 
President's Export Council and all the other members of the Council who 
are here with us on the stage today for their service.
    I want to thank Secretary Daley for doing a superb job as Commerce 
Secretary, not only in his responsibilities to promote America's exports 
and, generally, a free trading system throughout the world but for the 
many other good things he does for the American economy as the Secretary 
of Commerce.
    I'm very glad to address this first-ever national townhall meeting 
on trade. When the President's Export Council was created 25 years ago 
to promote America's businesses and jobs--just think of it; people are 
joining us today via satellite and the Internet--25 years ago, 
communications satellites were largely tools of our military. Even 6 
years ago, when I took office, the Internet was basically the private 
province of physicists. There were about 50 sites. Today, it's the 
fastest growing organ of communication in all of human history. Today, 
the Internet and communication satellites are not instruments of war but 
plowshares to help us to cultivate education and understanding, exports 
and the growth of our global economy.
    I think I'd like to say that it's also fitting that this townhall be 
held in a building named in honor of President Reagan, because he 
believes deeply in our indispensable role in promoting freedom and free 
trade throughout the world. In 1982 he said this: ``Great nations have 
responsibilities to lead. If we lower our profile, we might just wind up 
lowering our flag.'' Well, we still have a responsibility to lead--in 
the aftermath of the cold war, I would argue, a greater responsibility 
than ever before.
    That is why, 6 years ago, we charted a new course for our country, 
designed to preserve both the American dream and the American community 
at home and America's leadership for peace and freedom and prosperity 
around the world. We had a three-word motto: opportunity, 
responsibility, and community. That meant, among other things, that we 
took a new direction with our economy, a new strategy that began first 
with fiscal discipline, because our deficit was $290 billion that year, 
slated to go to nearly $400 billion last year. No country can buy 
prosperity by spending itself into debt deeper and deeper every year.
    In the years since, we have seen that the hard work of reducing the 
deficit and producing the first balanced budget in a generation has paid 
rich dividends: lower interest rates, higher investment, more growth, 
rising wages, a 28-year low in unemployment with a 32-year low in 
inflation. We have more to do. We must keep America fiscally sound. We 
must deal with the Social Security challenge that we face. We must 
expand the reach of enterprise into those neighborhoods and places in 
America that have not yet felt this economic recovery. But it is 
    The second thing we did in building this historic surplus was to 
make equally historic investments in our people, in education, in health 
care, in economic empowerment. In the new global economy, education and 
technology, research and development, health care and a clean

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environment--all these things will be increasingly valued, and without 
them it will be very difficult to prove that the global economy works 
for ordinary citizens. We have more to do, especially in education. And 
we have more potential in research, in medicine, and in economic and 
technological areas. But we are doing the right things.
    The third thing that we did with our economy, after balancing the 
budget and increasing investment, was to try to make the global economy 
work more aggressively for our people. During the past 5 years, exports 
have helped to create more than 2 million jobs, high-skilled jobs that 
on average pay more than 15 percent above the average.
    The free and open exchange of capital and ideas and goods across the 
globe has been vital to our prosperity throughout this century we're 
about to leave, but it will be far more important to our continued 
growth in the 21st century. That is why I have been so committed to 
opening markets to our goods and services throughout the world. During 
the past 5 years, we have completed 260 trade agreements to open global 
markets to areas from automobiles to telecommunications.
    Now, as we meet here today, this global trading system is facing two 
great related challenges: first, the most serious financial challenge 
since World War II; and second, the continuing need to put a human face 
on the global economy, that is, to make sure that in every country 
increased trade and investment works to benefit ordinary citizens.
    A full quarter of the world is now living in countries with 
declining or negative economic growth. Millions who were in the middle 
class in Asia or Russia, for example, have been devastated by economic 
problems in their own countries. Therefore, we see people, for the first 
time in a good while, beginning to question the premises of the free 
flow of goods and services and capital.
    With the whole world increasingly linked together in a global 
marketplace, with global communications, clearly these shocks abroad 
also reverberate at home. We saw it most clearly in the last several 
months in the markets that our farmers no longer had in Asia, leading to 
steep drops in farm prices here at home. We see it most clearly today, 
perhaps, in the fact that America's economy has remained strong, and 
with other countries suffering from no growth or negative growth, the 
flooding of our markets by certain products, especially steel, which has 
become a big source of concern and about which I'll say more in a couple 
of minutes.
    The point I want to make to all of you, especially to the students 
who are here, is that resolving the global crisis today is vitally 
important for the American people, from Brooklyn to North Dakota, in 
small towns and big cities. Why? Not only because it is in our interest 
to help our friends around the world to continue to enjoy the benefits 
of freedom and prosperity but because if we want to keep our own economy 
and social fabric strong, we have to do so in the context of a growing 
economy where people embrace the ideas of freedom and free exchange of 
goods and services. That is why America must continue to lead in 
building a strong financial and trading system for the 21st century.
    Over the past year we have pursued a very aggressive strategy to 
combat the financial crisis and to protect our jobs here at home. In 
September I called for urgent action to spur growth and to aid those 
nations most in need. The nations of the world have rallied to this 
agenda. Japan has committed substantial resources to repair its troubled 
banking system. Brazil is moving forward to address its fiscal problems. 
The international community is working to support these efforts.
    America, Japan, and others have cut interest rates. Our Congress 
agreed to fully fund our commitment to the International Monetary Fund. 
Through our Export-Import Bank and our Overseas Private Investment 
Council, we're providing credit and investment insurance to encourage 
the flow of capital to developing nations. The World Bank has announced 
that it will expand its spending to strengthen the social safety net in 
Asia, where so many people have been hurt by financial and economic 
    Just 10 days ago the Group of Seven major industrial nations 
announced additional steps: a new line of credit to help nations with 
sound economic policies fight off the financial contagion in the first 
place--it is always less expensive to keep something bad from happening 
than it is to fix it once it happens--and second, a new World Bank 
emergency fund to aid those who are suffering the most.
    Now, these are very, very positive steps. But there is still much 
more to do to keep countries on the path to prosperity, to stop future 

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before they start. I have called on the world community to act to adapt 
the architecture of the international financial system for the new 
realities of the 21st century, the 24-hour-a-day high-tech markets, with 
$1.5 trillion a day in currency exchanges.
    Let me say that again. We set up a system--for all the students 
here--that would enable more and more trade to occur in goods and in 
services and more and more investment to occur. Now, obviously, if 
you're going to have more trade and more investment in other countries, 
and their money is different from yours, there has to be a system to 
ensure a fairly free flow of capital around the world because those 
things have to be purchased or invested in in other countries. But 
today, the financial markets, more than any other time, are operating as 
an independent economic force, and let me say again, $1.5 trillion a day 
is changing hands in international currency exchanges. That is many, 
many times the total value of goods and services traded in any given 
    And that is at the bottom of a lot of the challenges we're facing 
today: How do we continue to support the necessary free flow of capital 
so that we can have the trade, the investment we need, and avoid the 
enormous impact that a financial collapse can have when the money being 
traded on its own is so much greater than the total value of goods and 
services being traded or investments being made?
    Later this week, leaders of the Asia-Pacific community of nations 
will gather in Asia to continue our efforts toward a more prosperous and 
secure future. We'll work on speeding the economic recovery in Asia, 
strengthening the social safety net, helping companies there to 
restructure their debt so they can emerge from the crushing burdens they 
face and once again employ people and pay them wages.
    Now, in solving the current crisis in Asia, Japan is of particular 
importance. It is, after all, the second largest economy in the world. 
It has been a key engine of growth for the entire world over the last 
two decades. The restoration of growth in Japan, which has been stalled 
now for more than 5 years, is absolutely essential to the restoration of 
growth in the remainder of Asia. The rest of us look to Japan to move 
quickly to implement the good banking reforms which have been passed, to 
spur demand for goods and services in the home market, to reduce 
unnecessary regulation, and to open its markets.
    At the Asia-Pacific leaders summit, our nations will work together 
to bring down more barriers to trade. Last year we agreed to consider 
opening nine key sectors, worth more than $1.5 trillion a year in world 
trade. We need to deliver on that agreement.
    We must also, here in the United States, move ahead on trade 
initiatives with Latin America, with Africa, with Europe. We must launch 
negotiations on agriculture and other areas within the World Trade 
Organization as we move toward next year's ministers meeting here at 
home in the United States. And here, on our domestic front, we need to 
find common ground on fast-track negotiating authority, so that I can 
continue to negotiate good trading agreements with other nations.
    Now, as we deal with all these issues, we must remember that it's 
also important to keep in mind that there must be a human face on the 
global economy; we must be able to show that economic exchange benefits 
ordinary citizens. Therefore, we will continue to work for trade 
agreements that include important protections for workers, for health 
and safety, for the environment, and to work for a world trading system 
that is more open to all elements of society and more designed to lift 
the fortunes of all people in all trading countries. Expanded trade must 
not provoke the so-called race to the bottom.
    We'll also work hard with our Congress to make our own sanctions 
policy more judicious, more fair, more cost-effective, something our 
business community has talked to us about quite a lot.
    America must also continue to lead the world to have an open, rules-
based trading system. If we expect the American people to support 
expanded trade, free trade must also be fair trade. I'm especially 
concerned, as I said earlier, about the impact of the international 
financial crisis on American steelworkers and our steel industry. We are 
committed to a full and timely enforcement of our trade laws to address 
unfair trade practices affecting this industry, and we will insist that 
our key trading partners play by the rules.
    I am pleased that Secretary Daley earlier today released regulations 
to implement our laws against unfairly subsidized imports. This 
expedited action will greatly help our steel and other

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industries as they review the legal remedies available to them.
    Our companies deserve fair treatment overseas as well. Earlier today 
I signed legislation approving an agreement with other industrial 
nations to crack down on bribery in international business transactions. 
This agreement requires the nations that sign it to enact laws barring 
their citizens from bribing foreign officials to win business in those 
    We've had laws like that on the books for more than 20 years. I'm 
sorry to say, as many of the people up here on this platform can 
testify, it's cost us a lot of business over the last 20 years to do the 
right thing. But it is clearly the right thing. American companies 
deserve a level playing field, and now, with this legislation and this 
international agreement, we will have it.
    Let me say one other thing. We believe the global economic system is 
strengthened by openness, so that people can judge whether governments, 
businesses, and international institutions like the WTO and the IMF act 
responsibly and honestly. And we will continue to push for greater 
    Finally, as I have told audiences this year from Santiago to 
Shanghai, no matter what we do in the United States to try to restore 
growth, no matter how good our world trading and financial systems are, 
there are some things nations must do for themselves. Unless nations 
deepen their democracies, unless they provide good education, health 
care to the maximum ability according to their means, unless they have a 
fair legal system, unless the citizens of each nation feel they have an 
actual stake in their own economies and they've got a good chance to get 
a fair shake if they work hard and play by the rules--unless these 
things are present, then nations will resist; people will resist the 
reforms that a lot of these nations have to undertake now to recover and 
to grow over the long run. Unless people are empowered with the tools to 
master economic change, they will feel they are its victims, not its 
    So I say again, we have heavy responsibilities here in the United 
States. We must continue with our efforts to generate greater economic 
growth, to seek freer and fairer trade, to see that trade and the global 
financial systems are modified to meet the needs of the 21st century, to 
roll back the present financial crisis, and to design efforts that will 
lift the lives of all people over the long run. We have to do this, but 
other countries must do their part as well.
    All of you young people who are out here, if you look at where we 
are in the United States, with a population that is more diverse 
racially, ethnically, culturally than ever before in our history, we are 
well-positioned to do better in the 21st century than at any time in our 
glorious past. If you look at the efforts being made to overcome old 
problems, from Northern Ireland to the Middle East, to Bosnia and 
Kosovo, to tribal difficulties in Africa, and you look at the continuing 
troubles that are still out there, it is clear that if a unifying rather 
than a dividing vision of human life and human society is the dominant 
one the young people in this country and this world bring to the world 
of the 21st century, we have the chance to have the most peaceful, most 
prosperous, most healthy, most forward-looking period in all human 
existence for people throughout the globe.
    But it is by no means certain. And this is a critical period. 
Everything we do for economics should be seen not as an economic matter 
alone but should be done because it also advances the texture and 
meaning and quality of life--the ability of families to raise their 
children, the ability of people to get better education, the ability of 
people to live in peace, the ability of people to look beyond their 
noses and the struggles of putting food on the table today to the need 
to reconcile our growing economy with our fragile environment around the 
    That's what this is about. That's why your presence here is so 
important. And that's what I ask you to think of. Yes, America is 
blessed. Yes, we're doing well. Yes, we're making money from the global 
economy. Yes, we can make more money and have more jobs and enjoy more 
prosperity. But in the end, the purpose of all this is to improve the 
quality, the depth, the texture of life, not only for ourselves but for 
the cause of peace and freedom throughout the world.
    I believe we can do it. I hope you will support that. And I hope 
very much that, once again in the coming year, we will make great 
advances here in the United States to that end.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:35 p.m. in the Atrium at the Ronald 
Reagan Building and International Trade Center. In his remarks, he 

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to Lionel Ogelsby, student, Washington Irving High School, New York 
City, who introduced the President; and C. Michael Armstrong, Chairman, 
President's Export Council, and chief executive officer, AT&T. S. 2375, 
the International Anti-Bribery and Fair Competition Act of 1998, 
approved November 10, was assigned Public Law No. 105-366.