Ronald Reagan on Free Trade

President of the U.S., 1981-1989; Republican Governor (CA)


US agribusiness subsidies squelched Haitian rice exports

Aristide was also barred [by the US] from providing any protection for the economy. Haitian rice farmers are efficient, but cannot compete with US agribusiness that relies on huge government subsidies, thanks largely to Reagan, anointed as the high pries of free trade with little regard to his record of extreme protectionism and state intervention in the economy. Other small businesses were destroyed by US dumping which Haiti was powerless to prevent under the imposed conditions of economy rationality.
Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p. 11-12 , Jun 1, 2010

1985: Vetoed import tariffs on textile goods

I found myself in a rare, head-to-head confrontation with President Reagan over proposed import tariffs on textile goods--a bill that aided industries already struggling in the US. Mass-produced goods from abroad were making a dent in an indigenous American business whose roots stretched back a century. The proposed tariffs would help protect this industry--including two textile plants in my district, which would benefit directly.

I informed the administration, which opposed the bill, that my support for the legislation prevented me from performing my whip duties. My chief deputy whip and I both recused ourselves.

Still, the bill passed, only to be promptly vetoed by the president. I did lead the drive to override the president's veto in an exhaustive campaign, and we managed to get 276 votes--71 Republicans and 205 Democrats. But it takes 2/3 of the votes to override a president, and our tally of 276-149 fell eight votes short.

Source: Herding Cats, by Trent Lott, p. 91 , Aug 29, 2006

1985: imposed import quotas on Japanese cars

Japan flooded the U.S. market with high-quality cars that sold far below the price at which the Big Three could afford to build, sell, and survive.

In 1985, the dollar, at 220 to the yen, was still too high to arrest the rising U.S. trade deficit. The Big Three were at death's door. Refusing to let any of them go under, Reagan intervened to save the industry by imposing import quotas on Japanese cars. Free traders denounced Reagan as a heretic. The death of Ford and Chrysler were of far less concern to them than fidelity to the free-trade gospel of David Ricardo and Adam Smith.

But Reagan's intervention succeeded. The U.S. auto industry was saved. By now, the boom of the 1980s was underway, propelled by the tax cuts of Reagan and the sound money policy of the Fed.

Source: Where The Right Went Wrong, by Pat Buchanan, p.201 , Aug 12, 2004

1985: Articulated goal of Western Hemisphere free trade

Reagan's belief in the twin policies of deregulation and free market trade reinvigorated the American economy in the 1980s. Under Reagan's leadership, we initiated a series of measures to ensure increased opportunities to sell American-made goods and services overseas, believing that exports equal jobs for Americans.

It was Reagan who first articulated a goal of free trade in the Western Hemisphere. America's first free trade agreement with Israel, implemented in 1985, was a Reagan achievement. A US-Canada agreement followed. In 1986, Reagan launched the Uruguay Round, a series of talks aimed at the reduction of trade barriers among more than 60 nations. NAFTA, providing substantial trade benefits to US firms seeking to conduct business in Mexico and Canada--our best customers--was another initiative of the Reagan-Bush years.

Reagan's faith in free trade principles was vindicated abroad by the crumbling of state-controlled, centrally directed communist economies.

Source: Agenda For America, by Haley Barbour, p.177-178 , Apr 25, 1996

Proposed concept behind NAFTA in 1979

Reagan himself was a dreamer, capable of imagining a world without trade barriers. In announcing his presidential candidacy in Nov. 1979, he had proposed a “North American accord” in which commerce & people would move freely across the borders of Canada & Mexico. This idea, largely overlooked or dismissed as a campaign gimmick in the US, rankled nationalist sensibilities in the neighboring nations. But Reagan was serious in his proposal. Though he traveled only once outside the North American continent during his first 57 years, he was neither insular nor isolationist. California has windows to the world in Asia, and Reagan thought of the US as a Pacific power as well as an Atlantic one. He also had a Californian’s consciousness of Mexico and an actor’s appreciation of Canadians, who are well-represented in the film community. The dream of a North American accord would drive the successful pursuit of a US-Canadian free trade agreement and a future-oriented “framework” trade agreement with Mexico
Source: [X-ref immigration] The Role of a Lifetime, p. 461 , Jul 2, 1991

Protectionism is destructionism: free, open, & fair trade

One of the greatest contributions the US can make to the world is to promote freedom as the key to economic growth. A creative, competitive America is the answer to a changing world, not trade wars that would close doors, create greater barriers, and destroy millions of jobs. We should always remember: Protectionism is destructionism. America's jobs, America's growth, America's future depend on trade--trade that is free, open, and fair.

This year, we have it within our power to take a major step toward a growing global economy and an expanding cycle of prosperity: the historic free trade agreement negotiated between our country and Canada. And I can also tell you that we're determined to expand this concept, south as well as north. Our goal must be a day when the free flow of trade, from the tip of Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle, unites the people of the Western Hemisphere in a bond of mutually beneficial exchange.

Source: Pres. Reagan's 1988 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 25, 1988

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Other past presidents on Free Trade: Ronald Reagan on other issues:
Former Presidents:
Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
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.Joseph Biden
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022