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It's a Necessity

December 19, 1985

President Reagan went to the heart of the matter in the message accompanying his veto of the textile protection bill, reminding Congress and the American people that American prosperity depends on world trade. Free trade is a necessity, not a luxury.

"It is my firm conviction," the President wrote, "that the economic and human costs of such a bill run far too high--costs in foreign retaliation against U.S. exports, loss of American jobs, losses to American businesses and damage to the world trading system upon which our prosperity depends."

This offers little solace to Americans hurt by the record wave of imports, those forced to adapt to new jobs after years of steady and productive work, and those left unemployed. But protectionism offers them little solace, either. The bill contrived in Congress might have postponed the loss of some jobs, but at an unacceptable cost in terms of extreme consumer burden measured in higher prices, and in terms of lost time in making the adaptation to a new competitiveness in world markets that is the key to the future economic well-being of America.

Reagan offered some appropriate reassurances to the affected industries--including textiles, apparel, shoes and copper--that were the objects of the vetoed bill. He called for a 60-day investigation of alleged violations of existing agreements to limit textile imports to be sure that the agreements are being respected. He promised additional funding for the retraining and relocation of displaced workers. And, of particular importance, he promised further steps to counter unfair trading practices.

His firmness in resisting the temptation to resort to protectionism has served the nation's interests well, and, beyond the national borders, has strengthened the international commitment to freer trade. Had he not resisted, the textile bill would have disrupted more than world trade. It would have devastated economic development in many struggling Third World nations. It would have burdened American consumers--especially low-income families who benefit from low-cost, high-quality goods from overseas.

From this strong position of leadership, Reagan can now move vigorously to accelerate the new round of global negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. This should serve especially as a lesson to the developing nations that have resisted a broadening of the trade negotiations to embrace the service sector. They cannot expect to benefit from the resources of the vast American market unless they also tear down their walls of protectionism.

The President summed up the issue succinctly: "We want to open markets abroad, not close them at home."

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