February 24, 1988
Thank you, Secretary Verity, Van Smith, and Jack Murphy. I'm especially pleased also that Governor Baliles is here today. He and several other Governors realize the importance of healthy, robust trade and have been champions of such international commerce. I couldn't be more pleased to join you today to launch the "Export Now'' campaign. America loves a winner, and I think this campaign exemplifies the winning spirit of American enterprise and competition.
Although the doomsayers haven't grasped the magnitude of what is happening in international commerce, our manufacturers, farmers, and world traders are already in the process of regaining America's share of world markets. Just a single figure tells the story. In the last quarter of 1987, our exports in real terms -- that's the volume of goods after adjusting for any change in prices -- were up 20 percent from the same period a year earlier. That's over five times the growth in our domestic economy. Who says we've lost the spirit of the Yankee trader?
We're in the midst of a great trade turnabout. Why? Well, there are several parts to the answer, as you all know. Obviously, the fact that the dollar's exchange rate is now at a far more realistic level is of great significance. One of the primary goals of ``Export Now'' is to drive home the point to middle-sized and smaller businesses that new opportunities are emerging because of the adjustment in the value of the dollar.
In short, exporting, for American businesses -- large and small -- is now a profitable option. At the current exchange rates, many American companies can now quote a lower price to their customers in Hamburg or Antwerp or Osaka than their competitors and still make a higher profit than on sales in our own domestic market. Of course, quoting a good price is only half the battle.
Quality products and good service are also part of the trade equation. And in the last few years, American industry has been going through an unprecedented period of renovation, computerization, and modernization. The commitment behind the dramatic changes I'm talking about resulted from the rude shock American business experienced when hit by the wave of imports some years ago. But our corporate leaders and working men and women did not give up, not in the least. They slimmed down. They became more efficient. They shut down obsolete plants. They worked to develop a new spirit of cooperation between management and labor, and placed much greater emphasis on quality and getting the job done right.
And now, as the exchange rate adjustments have opened new opportunities, our business community is ready to meet the competition. You know, there's a saying in sports, ``No pain, no gain.'' Well, American business has taken the pains, and now it's ready for the gains. What we don't need now, however, is protectionism that undermines all the progress we've made. I strongly urge Congress to send me a trade bill that does not imperil our ability to export by causing other countries to close their markets. U.S. businesses are in the process of recapturing old markets -- we shouldn't shoot ourselves in the foot after we've worked so hard and are in a position to win the race.
There are provisions in the legislation currently in conference that encourage exports, and we don't want to lose those, but there are also some totally objectionable provisions -- including measures that are GATT-illegal [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] and reduce U.S. competitiveness. We ask for your support to ensure that we don't end up with an economy-killing protectionist bill.
I visited a number of plants last year in various parts of the United States, and I must say I was deeply impressed by what I saw -- whether it was at Harley-Davidson in Pennsylvania, Dictaphone in Florida, Broan in Wisconsin, or Somerset Technologies in New Jersey. The working people of this country are ready and willing to compete head on. And I happen to believe that on a level playing field they can outproduce and outdo anyone, anywhere. Again, America's greatest asset is the character of our own people. I challenge anyone who says the United States is in some kind of decline to just look at the current export figures. We're beginning to beat our major competitors, both in third markets as well as in exporting to them directly. Let me give you just a couple of real world examples.
Back in 1973, when American auto manufacturers needed help in complying with the Clean Air Act, Corning Glass Works developed the catalytic converter. For 3 years, Corning dominated that market, but by 1977 Japanese makers of catalytic converters had come up with a superior and less expensive product. Detroit automakers gave Corning a choice: meet the competition head-on within 12 months or lose their business. Through union cooperation and worker participation from the factory floor to the boardroom, Corning did just that -- it came up with a better and more competitively priced converter. Corning not only kept Detroit's business but is now making inroads in the Japanese market.
Argus Fire Control, Incorporated, doused all the fires it could find in America. Dick Thomas, president of the firm, said, ``I figured I either had to come up with another product or find another market.'' Well, today, Argus sells in 15 foreign countries.
Change is the order of the day for a dynamic and expanding economy. Today new opportunities are opening as the people of the free world are brought closer together by technology and the elimination of political barriers to commerce. A great milestone in this evolutionary process will be the adoption of the U.S.-Canada free trade agreement. Our own businesses -- big and small -- need to be ready for the expanding horizons that will result from this historic agreement.
Bill, your "Export Now'' program has come along at exactly the right time, and I'm delighted to support this initiative. I also want to commend Jim Abdnor, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, who has been working to stimulate small businesses' interest in exporting. The conditions are right. We're already off to a great beginning in export growth. And now let's show the world what we can do
Thank you all very much.
Note: The President spoke at 2:04 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building to business leaders. In his opening remarks, he referred to Secretary of Commerce C. William Verity, Jr.; Van P. Smith, chairman of the board and president of the Ontario Manufacturing Corp.; John J. Murphy, chairman and chief executive officer of Dresser Industries; and Gov. Gerald L. Baliles of Virginia. ``Export Now'' was a public-private partnership designed to encourage U.S. exports.