Excerpts from the President's Remarks at
AFL-CIO Convention

... The final component of our three-part economic strategy, one that is just as essential for the future growth and the future wage growth of our economy, is our continuing work to open new markets and give American workers a fair break. I know we don't see eye to eye on fast track, but I think I owe it to you to tell you exactly why I feel so passionately about it. And I think I've earned the right to be heard on it. (Applause.)

Fast track authority is a tool that has been given by Democratic Congresses to Republican Presidents and Presidents, indeed, of both parties for more than 20 years now. It simply says that if the President or his representative, his trade representative, negotiates a trade agreement, then the Congress has to vote on it if it rises to the level of comprehensive agreement, but must vote it up or down, so that the other country does not believe it is having to negotiate with 535 people in addition to the person with whom they negotiated.

We cannot create enough good jobs and increase wages if we don't expand trade. There's a simple reason why. Indeed, about a third of the economic growth that has produced 13 million new jobs over the past four and a half years has come from selling more American products overseas. Here's why: We have four percent of the world's population and we enjoy 22 percent of the world's wealth. If we want to keep the 22 percent of the wealth we have as four percent of the world's people, we have to sell something to the other 96 percent.

And this did not happen by accident. There were over 220 trade agreements signed in the first four years of this administration. In the over 20 agreements signed with Japan, in those areas our exports went up by over 80 percent. The information technology agreement that we just signed, worldwide, covering 90 percent of information technology services in the world, under residual fast track authority that covered that area amounts to a $5-billion tax or tariff cut on American products -- high value-added products, many of which are made by union workers.

Now, in the next 15 years, the developing countries in Latin America and Asia will grow three times as fast as the United States, Europe and Japan. As I told the United Nations a couple of days ago, early in the next century, about 20 nations comprising half of the world's people will move from the ranks of low-income nations to middle-income nations. They are going to grow in a world economy. We are going to participate in that growth to a greater or lesser extent. The more fair trade deals we have to allow us entry into their markets where we've been at a significant disadvantage for too long, the more we will participate.

You know that our own markets are among the most open in the world. We were able to get 220 trade agreements in the first four years because we made people know that if they wanted access to our open markets, they were going to have to open theirs. We have to insist upon this treatment. If we don't act and we don't lead, nobody else will level the playing field for us.

Indeed, our competitors in the other wealthy countries, in Europe and Japan, would just as soon we not make these trade agreements. They can make them because they read the same predictions we do -- they know that their economies are only going to grow a third as fast as the ones in Latin America and Asia as well, and they are looking for some way in to protect their workers and their longtime economic security.

We can compete if given a fair chance. Last year, I had a chance to visit the Jeep Cherokee plant in Toledo -- a UAW plant producing tens of thousands of right-wheel-drive jeeps for export to Japan and other markets we thought hard to open up for them. They have 700 new jobs at that plant, and I think it's the oldest auto plant in the United States of America still operating. The global economy is working for them. I am determined to see that it works for everyone.

Should we ask other people to adhere to global standards on the environment? Of course, we should. I think you could make a strong case that no administration has done more to preserve and protect the environment against onslaughts than ours has. Should we acknowledge that global trade can pull the rug out from some of our people? Of course, it could. At every period of economic change in our country's history, that has happened to people. The difference is that we have to be committed to give more aid, to do more for people who are suffering, who are displaced. Because nobody should be left behind in the global economy. Nobody. That's why we double funding for displaced workers. That's why I know we have to do more. We don't have to leave people behind. Everybody should have the right to keep a good job and to go into tomorrow.

But we can only do that with a growing population if we continue to grow the economy. So the trick is to get the right economic growth package, to create the right mix of new jobs, to try to make sure always more than half of your new jobs are paying above average wage and not leave people behind. It's not easy to do, but this administration is committed to doing it. And I think we have demonstrated that commitment time and again.

We also have to recognize that the global economy is on a fast track. It is changing amazingly. For example, every month -- every month -- millions and millions of new contacts are made on the Internet. Every single month. It's exploding like nothing ever has, creating all kinds of networks of commerce and bringing people close together in new and unusual ways. We have to figure out how to make this work for us. If it doesn't work for us, it will work against us.

I believe leaving our trade relations on hold with the fastest growing economies in the world will not create a single job in America, and it certainly won't raise environmental standards or labor standards in other countries. This year -- this year alone, so far, two-thirds of the increase in America's trade has come from Canada to the southern tip of South America, our neighbors. Two-thirds. We could do better. This year, leaders from Europe have gone to South America to tell them that the United States no longer cares about their markets, or the cooperation and leadership that goes along with working with them. They say that their future should be with Europe, and they should organize to give Europe considerations and breaks in opening their markets, and leave us out.

Now, think about it. Think about Chile, or Brazil or Argentina. Their markets are more closed to us than ours are to them. We still are selling more just because they're growing so much. But we know they'll grow a lot more over the next 10 to 20 years. They now need things that we sell and things that your people produce better than any other group of people in the world.

This is not about NAFTA or factories moving there to sell back to here. I think all of us agree it is highly unlikely anyone will move a factory to Chile to sell back to here. This is about how we can best seize our opportunities in the economy that is emerging, and how 4 percent of the world's people can continue to maintain 20 to 22 percent of the world's wealth, and continue to grow the economy so incomes can rise and new jobs can be created.

Now, I know this is a difficult debate and I know we disagree about it. But the debate over fair trade and fast track should itself be fair. It should also be open and honest. I have personally sat alone in the White House and listened to talk shows where your representatives were on the shows, because I wanted to hear the arguments and hear the concerns and know the things that you want. And you know we have had exhaustive numbers of meetings between the administration and leaders of the labor movement. We ought to have an open, fair and honest debate. We are trying to move as much as we can on a lot of the concerns that you have raised.

But I also want to say that I think we share too many values and priorities to let this disagreement damage our partnership. You just think of all of the things that I reeled off that we've done together and all of the things we've stood against in the last five years. I have worked to make this economy work for middle-class Americans. I care about making sure everybody has a chance and making sure nobody is left behind. But I can't build a better future without the tools to do the job, and America can't lead if it's bringing up the rear.

At the moment of our greatest economic success in an entire generation, we shouldn't be reluctant about the future; we ought to seize it and shape it. And I think I also have to say to you that there are a lot of good members of Congress who agree with me about our trade policy who also stood for the minimum wage. They agree with me about our trade policy, but they fought to provide health care for 5 million more kids. They support open trade, but they also fought to protect Medicare and Medicaid and education and the environment, and to open the doors of college to all Americans.

And when the majority in Congress wanted to do so, they stood against them and fought with you against the Contract on America. They fought with you against attempts to repeal the prevailing wage laws, to weaken unions and workplace health and safety laws. They did so in the face of intense pressure. They have fought for you and for all working people, and they deserve our support. If they were to lose their positions because they stood up for what they believe was right for America's future, who would replace them, and how much harder would it be to get the necessary votes in Congress to back the President when he stands by you against the majority?

America is far better off when the friends of working people stand together without letting one issue trump all the others. Friends and allies don't participate in the politics of abandonment; they band together -- disagreeing when they must -- but banding together...

[Footer icon]

[White House icon] [Help Desk icon]

To comment on this service,
send feedback to the Web Development Team.