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Bill Clinton on Free Trade

President of the U.S., 1993-2001; Former Democratic Governor (AR)


Be the innovator of the new multipolar world

In this new, multipolar world, we can be the world's best innovator; the world's best producer of new products and services; the world's best assimilator of people from every nation, race, religion, and culture; and the world's best example of shared opportunity and responsibility, demonstrating the power of both individual freedom and close cooperation and proving both the genius of free markets and the necessity of active government.
Source: Back to Work, by Bill Clinton, p.191 , Nov 8, 2011

Export more services; get to emerging opportunities

Source: Back to Work, by Bill Clinton, p.171-172 , Nov 8, 2011

1999: Agreed on fair-trade clothing purchases from Cambodia

In 1999, my administration executed a unique trade agreement with Cambodia that gave U.S. clothing companies the opportunity to be fair trade purchasers. We promised greater access to the U.S. market if the Cambodian factories applied both local labor laws and international labor standards, including a ban on forced labor and child labor--a big problem in factories in many developing nations. The International Labour Organization agreed to monitor them and to help companies meet the standards and correct the problems. As a result of the agreement, working conditions vastly improved; employment skyrocketed, producing new jobs for 270,000 workers (two-thirds of the industrial workforce); and exports to the United States increased 17 percent, through participating companies like Gap Inc., Nike, Sears, and others.
Source: Giving, by Bill Clinton, p.171-172 , Sep 4, 2007

1995: Determined to open Japanese auto market

In the president's radio address on May 13 on Japanese trade, Clinton said that the US was "hitting a brick wall" after 20 months of talks with the Japanese. The annual trade deficit with Japan was a record $66 billion, largely because of the closed auto market in Japan. "I am determined to open Japan's auto market," Clinton said in the bland address. "We don't want a trade conflict with Japan, but we won't hesitate to fight for a fair shake for American products."
Source: The Choice, by Bob Woodward, p.202 , Nov 1, 2005

1993: NAFTA passed, but at a high price of dividing Dems

November offered two examples of sound policy and questionable politics. After Al Gore plainly bested Ross Perot in a heavily watched TV debate in NAFTA, it passed the House, 234-200. Three days later the Senate followed suit, 61-38. Al and I had called or seen two hundred members of Congress, and the cabinet had made nine hundred calls. President Carter also helped, calling members of Congress all day long for a week. We also had to make deals on a wide range of issues; the lobbying effort for NAFTA looked even more like sausage making than the budget fight had. Our whole team had won a great economic and political victory for America, but like the budget, it came at a high price, dividing our party in Congress and infuriating many of our strongest supporters in the labor movement.
Source: My Life, by Bill Clinton, p.557 , Jun 21, 2004

Free markets let all people live out their dreams

The market worshippers shredded the modern social contract, the hard-fought consensus that had emerged since the New Deal, which ordered our political priorities, and expressed both our communal concern for the most vulnerable and our disapproval of huge inequalities. We were now supposed to believe that all that could be left up to the soulless, self-correcting calculus of supply and demand.

In 1995, Pres. Clinton described the job of our generation: "to persuade people that democracy and free markets can give all people the opportunity to live out their dreams." Almost imperceptibly "free markets" had come to mean unregulated markets. As for democracy, well, it was a nice rhetorical flourish. But in reality, the fact that half of our citizens do not vote in presidential elections did not seem to concern our political leaders.

Once the province of Republicans supply-siders, this all-encompassing faith was warmly embraced in the nineties by New Democrats.

Source: Pigs at the Trough, by Arianna Huffington, p. 16 , Jan 27, 2004

Assumed that economic globalization was inevitable

Clinton assumed that economic globalization was inevitable. He also believed in the classical theory of free trade: Lower tariffs would result in lower prices, greater exports, and a stronger economy. "it's so wonderful when an economic theory turns out to be right," his Treasury Secretary, Lawrence Summers, would later crow; "The economic benefits of the tariff reductions we negotiated during the Clinton administration represents the largest tax cut in the history of the world."
Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p. 79 , Feb 11, 2003

Our tariff reductions were largest tax cut in world history

Clinton assumed that economic globalization was inevitable. He also believed in the classical theory of free trade: Lower tariffs would result in lower prices, greater exports, and a stronger economy. Lawrence Summers, Treasury Secretary, would later crow, "The economic benefits of the tariff reductions we negotiated during the Clinton administration represent the largest tax cut in the history of the world."
Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p. 79 , Feb 11, 2003

Traditional borders challenged by new technologies

By 1998, the economic transformation he had long predicted--from the Industrial Age to the Information Age--was finally beginning to seem something more than rhetorical conceit. The national economy was behaving in ways that had seemed unimaginable a few years earlier. Unemployment rates were plummeting while inflation rates remained at historic lows; prosperity was rising at all income levels (the incomes of households in the broad middle of the economic spectrum increased by a remarkable 35% during his 8 years in office). Traditional notions of time and space and borders were being challenged by new technologies--portable computers, the Internet, cell phones, satellite television--that were simultaneously transforming not only global marketplace, but also the most routine ceremonies of middle-class life.

This was transformation, Clinton believed, similar to the development, at the beginning of the twentieth century, of a truly national economy dominated by vast corporate trusts.

Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p. 13-14 , Feb 11, 2003

US must not disentangle itself from the world

The global economy is giving more of our own people and millions around the world the chance to work and live and raise their families with dignity. But the expansion of trade hasnít fully closed the gap between those of us who live on the cutting edge of the global economy and the billions around the world who live on the knifeís edge of survival. This global gap requires more than compassion. It requires action. Global poverty is a powder keg that could be ignited by our indifference.

Thomas Jefferson warned of entangling alliances. But in our times, America cannot and must not disentangle itself from the world. If we want the world to embody our shared values, then we must assume a shared responsibility.

We must embrace boldly and resolutely our duty to lead, to stand with our allies in word and deed and to put a human face on the global economy so that expanded trade benefits all peoples in all nations, lifting lives and hopes all across the world.

Source: President Clintonís farewell address , Jan 18, 2001

NAFTA increased exports to Mexico by 11%

Promise: To support the North American Free Trade Agreement as long as other accords can be reached on the environment and labor standards.

Status: NAFTA was signed into law on December 8, 1993. On January 1, 1994, the US opened a National Administrative Office to handle NAFTA-related labor issues. US exports to Mexico were 11% higher in 1995 than they were in 1993, the year before NAFTA was signed.

Source: State of the Union, by T.Blood & B.Henderson, p.152 , Aug 1, 1996

Completed the Reagan-Bush achievements on NAFTA

The US will continue to seek cooperative trading partners throughout the world, but we will no longer accept uneven trading relationships with countries that do not grant American businesses the opportunity to compete in their markets.

The Clinton administration has attempted to "talk tough" on trade policy, but its actions have sent mixed signals to the world. Inevitably, the results have been lackluster, apart from completing the Reagan-Bush achievements on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Uruguay Round.

Where trading partners continue to build barriers to open trade, the US must use the World Trade Organization, NAFTA, and domestic laws to insist on the rights of our exporters and domestic interests.

Source: Agenda For America, by Haley Barbour, p.171-172 , Apr 25, 1996

On balance, trade creates jobs

The globalization of the world economy has had profound effects on work, on workers, and on wages. Open markets mean products come into America that are made by people who work for wages Americans canít live on. This can cost some American workers their jobs and keep others from getting a raise.

But, overall, trade has brought vast benefits to most Americans. Jobs in exporting companies on average pay considerably higher wages than jobs in companies that sell only within the US.

Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p. 33-34 , Jan 1, 1996

Support NAFTA & GATT: build bridges, not walls

We donít need to build walls, we need to build bridges. We donít need protection, we need opportunity. But in a world of stiff competition we also need more than free trade. We need fair trade with fair rules.

Thatís why I fought for NAFTA, which effectively opened Mexicoís and Canadaís markets to American products, and for GATT, which is helping to level the playing field for American companies abroad.

In all, since 1992 we have negotiated more than 200 trade agreements-21 with Japan alone.

Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p. 34-35 , Jan 1, 1996

For NAFTA with enforcement and job training

PEROT: [to Clinton]: You implement NAFTA, the Mexican trade agreement, where they pay a dollar an hour, have no health care, no retirement, no pollution controls, etc., and you're going to hear a giant sucking sound of jobs being pulled out of this country. We don't have good trade agreements across the world.

BUSH: I am for the North American Free Trade Agreement. I think free trade is going to expand our job opportunity. I think it is exports that have saved us when we're in a recession. We need more free trade agreements.

CLINTON: I say it does more good than harm if we can get protection for the environment so that the Mexicans have to follow their own environmental standards, their own labor law standards, and if we have a genuine commitment to reeducate and retrain American workers who lose their jobs.

Source: The Third Clinton-Bush-Perot Presidential Debate , Oct 19, 1992

Spur reforms via PNTR and China in WTO

After 13 years of negotiations, the Administration concluded a landmark agreement for Chinaís entry into the World Trade Organization. China agreed to grant the U.S. significant new access to its rapidly growing market of over one billion people, while we have agreed simply to maintain the market access policies we already apply to China by granting it permanent Normal Trade Relations. The U.S.-China agreement slashes Chinese tariffs on American goods; opens Chinaís markets to American services, and contains safeguards against unfair trading practices. Chinaís membership in the WTO will spur economic reforms in China, open China to information and ideas from around the world, and strengthen the rule of law in China.

The Administration [also] secured commitments from Asian Pacific nations to eliminate barriers to open trade in the region by 2020 for developing countries and 2010 for industrialized countries. Over the next two years, 15 sectors will be identified for tariff reductions.

Source: WhiteHouse.gov web site , Jul 2, 2000

Fair trade will liberalize China

Fair trade among free markets does more than simply enrich America; it enriches all partners to each transaction. It raises consumer demand for our products worldwide; encourages investment & growth; lifts people out of poverty & ignorance; increases understanding; and helps dispel long-held hatreds. Thatís why we have worked so hard to help build free-market institutions in Eastern Europe, Russia, and the former Soviet republics. Thatís why we have supported commercial liberalization in China-the worldís fastest-growing market. Just as democracy helps make the world safe for commerce, commerce helps make the world safe for democracy. Itís a two-way street.

In the coming years, we must continue to negotiate to lower trade barriers and insist that our trade partners play by fair trading rules. As we continue to work to open new markets, we must ensure the protection of our workers & our environment, as well as seek to advance labor and improve environmental conditions in developing countries.

Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p. 36 , Jan 1, 1996

Build a rule-based global trading system.

Clinton adopted the manifesto, "A New Agenda for the New Decade":

Write New Rules for the Global Economy
The rise of global markets has undermined the ability of national governments to control their own economies. The answer is neither global laissez faire nor protectionism but a Third Way: New international rules and institutions to ensure that globalization goes hand in hand with higher living standards, basic worker rights, and environmental protection. U.S. leadership is crucial in building a rules-based global trading system as well as international structures that enhance worker rights and the environment without killing trade. For example, instead of restricting trade, we should negotiate specific multilateral accords to deal with specific environmental threats.

Source: The Hyde Park Declaration 00-DLC1 on Aug 1, 2000

  • Click here for definitions & background information on Free Trade.
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Other past presidents on Free Trade: Bill Clinton on other issues:
Former Presidents:
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

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V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole
V.P.Walter Mondale

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Page last updated: Jan 06, 2014