[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1993, Book II)]
[October 28, 1993]
[Pages 1850-1854]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the Wall Street Journal Conference on the Americas in
New York City
October 28, 1993

    Thank you very much, Peter. And thank you for that wonderfully 
understated observation that your editorial positions don't always agree 
with mine. [Laughter]
    I am delighted to be here tonight on a matter on which we both 
agree. I thank you for sponsoring this meeting, and I was glad to see 
you and my longtime acquaintance Al Hunt, who invited me. I would say 
``friend,'' but it would destroy his reputation in the circle in which 
we find ourselves. [Laughter] He invited me here only because he had 
been replaced by Alan Murray, and therefore he knew he could not 
guarantee me one line of good press for accepting this invitation. 
[Laughter] I thank you, I thank William Rhodes and Karen Elliott House 
and all the others who are responsible for this event.
    Ladies and gentlemen, I will get right to the point. When we 
concluded the side agreements with Mexico and Canada in the NAFTA 
negotiations and actually had a proposal to take to the Congress, I 
really believed that the cause was so self-evidently in the interests of 
the United States that after a little bit of smoke and stirring around, 
that the votes would rather quickly line up in behalf of what was 
plainly in our short and long term national interests. It is no secret 
that that has not happened.
    Since I have always prided myself on being a fairly good reader of 
the political tea leaves, I have pondered quite a bit about why we are 
engaged in a great struggle that I think is very much worth making and 
that I still believe we will win. But why has it been so hard? And what 
can all of us who believe that NAFTA ought to prevail and in a larger 
sense believe we need to succeed in getting a new GATT round by the end 
of the year and in promoting a continually more open world trading 
system, what is it that all of us can do to try to give new energy, new 
drive to this vision that we all share for the post-cold-war world?
    Anyway, let's begin by why it turned out to be so hard. I think it 
is far more complicated than just saying that the labor movement in 
America and the Ross Perot-organized group had a lot of time to bash 
NAFTA without regard to what would ultimately be in the final agreement.
    It is far more complicated than that. And it is at root a reflection 
of the deep ambivalence the American people now feel as they look toward 
the future. So that in a profound way, at this moment in time, NAFTA has 
become sort of the catch-all for the accumulated resentments of the 
past, the anxieties about the future, and the frustrations of the 
present. Irrelevant are the specific provisions of the agreement, which 
plainly make better all the specific complaints many of the people 
opposing NAFTA have about our relationship with Mexico.
    I mean, plainly if you just read the agreement, it will cause the 
cost of labor and the cost of environmental compliance to go up more 
rapidly in Mexico. Plainly, if you just read the agreement, it reduces 
the requirements of domestic content for production and sale in Mexico 
in ways that will enable Americans to export more. Plainly, the main 
benefit to the Mexican people is opening the entire country in a more 
secure way to American investment, not for production back to the 
American market but to build the Mexican market, to build jobs and 
incomes and an infrastructure of a working market economy for more of 
the 90 million people who are our largest close neighbors.

[[Page 1851]]

    So this opposition is in spite of the plain terms of the agreement. 
It is also in spite of the fact that plainly NAFTA could lead the way to 
a new partnership with Chile, with Argentina, with Colombia, with 
Venezuela, with a whole range of countries in Latin America who have 
embraced democracy and market economics. And I say this to my friends 
who are not from Latin America but are from other nations here tonight: 
We see this not as an exclusive agreement but as part of the building 
block of a framework of continually expanding global trade.
    So this is not about the letters, the words, the phrases, the terms, 
or the practical impact of this agreement. That is not what is 
bedeviling those of us who are trying so hard to pass this agreement. 
This agreement has become the symbol, as I said, for the emotional 
frustration, anxieties, and disappointments of the American people, 
feelings that are shared, as we now see from the results of the recent 
Canadian elections and other wealthy countries, the results of the 
recent elections in France, manifest in the low growth rates in Europe 
and the low growth rates in Japan and the recent elections there.
    What we are seeing is a period of global stagnation which comes at 
the end of several years in which global growth did not necessarily mean 
more jobs or higher incomes in wealthy countries. We are living in a 
time of great hope where there's more democracy, more adherence to 
market economics, when the wonders of technology are providing new areas 
of economic endeavor and millions of new successes every year in all 
continents, but where still there is so much frustration for those who 
cannot figure out how to make these changes friendly to them. So that in 
America, for example, having nothing whatever to do with NAFTA or our 
trade with Mexico, we are now at the end of a 20-year period when hourly 
wage workers have seen their incomes remain basically stagnant while 
their work week has lengthened; when income plus fringe benefits have 
gone up modestly, but mostly that's been inflation and wage costs; when 
for the last several years, we have seen more and more working people 
subject to the restructuring of industries, which means that for the 
first time since World War II, people who lose their jobs in America now 
normally don't get the same job back. They get a different job, after a 
longer period of time, usually with a smaller company, usually paying a 
lower wage with a weaker package of fringe benefits.
    Now, to be sure, though, a lot of good things are happening. 
Manufacturing productivity in this country is growing very rapidly and 
has been for several years. We are recapturing part of our own 
automobile market, for example, this year. It's quite astonishing to see 
what's happened to the American manufacturers' share of the American car 
market. That's just one example. American productivity in the service 
sector is beginning to come back. And if you give me a couple of years 
to work with the Vice President on this reinventing Government, we'll 
give you more productivity in the Government sector, too, which will 
have a private sector impact.
    But the plain fact is there are an awful lot of people in this 
country who feel that they are working harder, caught on a treadmill, 
not moving up, who feel quite insecure and uncertain.
    If you look at what has happened, basically, we live in a world 
where money management and almost all but not all technology is mobile; 
where productivity and prosperity are largely a function of the skills 
of the work force, the level of appropriate investment and 
infrastructure, and in the private sector, the organization of work and 
the system for maintaining ever new and different skills, and the 
systems that support work and family, the systems that support expanding 
exports, and the systems that support dealing with sweeping economic 
change. To whatever extent any nation with a high per capita income 
lacks those factors, people will suffer. And there will always be some 
dislocation simply because of the rapid pace of change.
    What happened today in America is we have a whole lot of people who 
have dealt with this not very well, who feel that they have worked hard 
and played by the rules, and who now are the seed bed of resentment 
welling up against NAFTA, not because of anything that's in NAFTA but 
because it's the flypaper that's catching all the emotion that is a part 
of the runoff of the last 10 or 12 years, in many cases 15 years, of 
experience with the global economy where the United States has not made 
all the investments we should have made, has not made all the changes we 
should have made, has not made the adjustments we should have made.
    Therefore, what I have tried to do, and what I tried to do in my 
speech to the AFL-CIO in San Francisco recently, was to argue that we 
needed in America to face the future with confidence, to believe that we 
can compete and

[[Page 1852]]

win, not to run away and not to pretend that these global changes had 
not occurred, but also to argue that we ought to have a certain base 
level of security in this country so we could deal with the future.
    That's why I supported the family leave law, because most people who 
are parents also work. So we shouldn't make it impossible in America for 
a person to be a good parent and a good worker. I believe it adds to 
worker productivity even though it's a little extra cost for employers.
    That's why I think we have to become the last advanced nation to 
provide health security to all working people, because people are going 
to lose their jobs in this economy. It's a dynamic economy; one that 
creates jobs in as many different ways as ours does will also have 
people losing jobs all the time. And if we want that dynamism to be 
there, there has to be a bedrock of security underneath it. People 
cannot feel, when they go home tonight to face their families, their 
children over the dinner table, that if they have lost their jobs, they 
have put their children's health in danger. So we need to build that 
    That's why, next year, we're going to propose radically changing the 
unemployment system in this country to a reemployment system where, 
instead of just getting benefits until they run out, you immediately 
begin a job search, an analysis of the jobs in the given area, the areas 
of job growth, and a retraining program immediately, because most people 
will not get their old job back. And that's what the unemployment system 
is premised on. It is taking taxes from employers and dragging down the 
economy under a false premise because it's no longer relevant to the 
world we live in.
     What has all that got to do with NAFTA? If we had all this in 
place, we'd have a more secure work force, and it would be easier to 
argue to them we must face the future with confidence. In that 
connection I would like to ask those of you here who are Americans who 
are employers here to do one or two things tonight. Number one, I ask 
that you tell your own employees and publicly commit that you will 
support a rich, full, and adequate job retraining program for the people 
who will be displaced because of this agreement. This is a job winner 
for America. We're going to get more jobs than we lose, but some will 
    One of the more sophisticated opponents of this agreement said to me 
the other day, ``I know you will create more jobs than you'll lose. But 
the people who get new jobs won't feel as much joy as the people who 
lose them will feel pain.'' Interesting argument. If you were on the 
losing end, you might agree. What do we owe those people? A far better 
training and retraining program than we have, a far more aggressive 
reemployment program than we have. You should support that so that the 
people who are at risk will feel that we are moving forward into the 
future together. It is very important.
    The second thing that I ask of all of you is this, that you ask your 
employees who support this to contact their Members of Congress. I've 
had as many Republican as Democratic Members of Congress that I am 
lobbying say to me, ``I want to hear from the people who work for the 
employers, not just the employers. I want to hear from people who know 
that their jobs will be made more secure, not less secure, if NAFTA 
passes.'' That is very important.
    We have all these wavering Members of Congress now, many of them 
moderate Republicans and moderate to conservative Democrats, who come 
from districts where they have both labor union members asking them to 
vote against this and people who are part of the old Perot organization 
asking them to vote against it, and they just want some other real 
voters to ask them to vote for it. They just want to know there's 
somebody in their district who understands that this is good for 
    The last thing that I ask you to do is to lift this debate up in the 
last 3 weeks. I'm going to travel this country, intensify my contacts 
with the Congress, and try to get as many other people enlisted in this 
battle as possible. But we have to realize that the people of America 
can view this through their personal spectrum, but the Members of 
Congress must be statesmen and stateswomen. They have to realize what is 
at stake for America in this. We have to decide whether we are going to 
face the future with confidence and with a belief that we can compete 
and win, and with genuine respect for the heroic changes undertaken by 
our neighbors in Mexico to the south and other heroic changes being 
undertaken by neighbors to the south of them, and engage them in 
friendship and partnership, or whether we're going to turn away from all 
that and pretend that we can really do well in a world that we no longer 
try to lead.
    You know, the psychological aspect of this

[[Page 1853]]

whole debate is absolutely fascinating to me. The element of 
isolationism that I see coming into some of our foreign policy debates 
is equally present in the NAFTA debate: ``I've got to worry about 
myself, and I don't have time to worry about anybody else.'' The problem 
is, in the world we're living in, worrying about yourself is worrying 
about somebody else. We're too connected. We don't have that option. And 
if you think about this in more personal terms, every time an 
individual, a family, a State, or a nation faces a crisis brought on by 
change, you have only two options. You can sort of batten down the 
hatches, hunker down, and hope it will go away, and that works about one 
time in 100; or you can take a deep breath, take your licks, figure out 
what's happening, and embrace the future with zest. That's what America 
has done. That's why we're still around.
    This is a real test of our character as a country, whether we 
believe that we can compete and win, whether we believe that partnership 
is good global economics and good American economics, and whether we 
really understand that we have to make our people see the rest of the 
world as an opportunity, not a threat.
    So I ask all of you to think about that. To our friends here who 
have operations in both the United States and Mexico or other parts of 
Latin America, I ask you to explain to Members of Congress that nothing 
in this agreement makes it more attractive to invest in Mexico to sell 
in the American market. But this agreement does make it more attractive 
for Americans to invest in Mexico to help build Mexico. No longer will 
the maquilladora line be some magic line in the sand. Now you can invest 
in Mexico City and help to build a strong market of millions of 
consumers who can be even better partners with the United States. I 
promise you, a lot of people who will vote on this agreement and carry 
its fate still do not understand that elemental principle.
    You need to say if you have experience in both countries that if you 
don't pass this agreement, everything that you don't like about the 
present situation will get worse. And if you do pass it, everything you 
like will get better.
    These sound like simple things, but I tell you, I've been to so many 
of these meetings where all of us stand up who agree with one another, 
and it's like we're all preaching to the saved, as we say at home. Well, 
there's lots of folks out there who aren't saved yet, but they are 
willing to listen. And the Members of the United States Congress need to 
understand what the consequences of passing this are and what the 
consequences of not passing this are, not only in Mexico but throughout 
Latin America.
    The changes in Mexico, political and economic, in the last several 
years, have been truly astonishing, of historic proportions. To continue 
that, they need a partner, and it ought to be us. And in the long run, 
even though I know some of our friends in Asia don't like this agreement 
now, it is in the best interest of the Asians; it is in the best 
interest of our friends in Europe; it is in the best interest of the 
world trading system for Latin America and the United States of America 
and Canada to grow more, to increase their wealth, diversify their 
activities, so that we can embrace our full share of responsibility for 
a new fully integrated global trading system.
    I think, whether we like it or not, that NAFTA has acquired a 
symbolic significance, perhaps out of proportion to its narrow economic 
impact, not only for all those who are ``agin'' it but for all of us who 
are for it, too. We have to face the fact that it is, in our time, the 
debate which enables us to make a statement about what kind of country 
we are and what kind of partners we are going to be and what kind of 
future we are going to make.
    And I tell you, I believe we will win in the end because I have seen 
Congress time and again go to the brink with the easy choice and make 
the hard one because they knew it was the right thing to do for America. 
But they need help. The two things you can most do to give that help is 
to say, ``I am an employer. I am a taxpayer. I know that people who are 
disturbed by this, who are dislocated by this agreement should have 
access to the finest training program this country has ever provided. 
And I will support that. I will insist that the President and the 
Congress take care of the people who lose out.''
    And the second thing you can do is, for goodness sakes, to tell 
people how it works. We cannot let the legitimate grievances, the honest 
fears, the well-founded anxieties of people who are not doing very well 
in this economy stop them from doing better tomorrow. We cannot let the 
American people act in ways that are against their self-interest.
    As I said when I was in San Francisco talking to the AFL-CIO, the 
truth is that this agree-

[[Page 1854]]

ment will create more jobs for labor union members in the United States. 
We have to assert those facts, and we can prevail if we do.
    Now, we have, as you know, about 2\1/2\ weeks, a little more, before 
the scheduled vote. That is an eternity. The Congress wants to do the 
right thing. I am convinced, about a week or 10 days ago we passed what 
I always think of as the first threshold in a big struggle in the 
Congress: I believe we won the secret ballot battle. That is, I think if 
there were no recorded votes we could ratify NAFTA tomorrow. And that is 
a very good sign. It is also not ignoble for people to listen to their 
    What we have to do now is move from winning the secret ballot battle 
to winning the recorded battle. We can do it. We can do it. But I ask 
you to remember that all those people that are hanging fire, all the 
undecided voters in the Congress, are carrying with them the accumulated 
fears, resentments, and anxieties of a lot of Americans who did the very 
best they could and it still didn't work out for them.
    And I ask you to at least go far enough with those folks to say, 
``If anything happens to you, we're going to give you a chance to learn 
a new skill. We're going to give you a chance to change.'' As I tell 
people anyway, the average 18-year-old is going to change jobs eight 
times in a lifetime anyway. We might as well get used to it. The average 
60-year-old worker in America is going to have to get used to learning a 
new skill. They might as well learn to enjoy it. It will make life a lot 
more interesting.
    NAFTA can be the beginning of our decision to be a secure nation in 
a global economy; to lead, not follow; to reach out, not hunker down. We 
owe it not just to our friends in Mexico and Canada and Latin America, 
not just to the rest of the world, we owe it to the tradition of 
America. And I believe we will do it. But it's going to take all hands 
on deck. And I came here tonight to ask for your help, as much as you 
can do in every way that you can, for the next 3 weeks.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 8:23 p.m. in the Empire Room at the Waldorf 
Astoria Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Peter R. Kann, chairman 
and chief executive officer, Dow Jones and Co., Inc., and publisher, the 
Wall Street Journal; Albert R. Hunt, executive Washington editor, and 
Alan Murray, Washington bureau chief, the Wall Street Journal; William 
R. Rhodes, vice chairman, CITIBANK; and Karen Elliott House, vice 
president international, Dow Jones and Co., Inc.