The President. Thank you all very much. Please be seated. A thousand apologies for keeping you all waiting, but you had the most knowledgeable Fast Track authority in the country doing the heavy lifting here. Carla, thank you.
But first, thank you all for coming here. I know I've talked to some of you in this room about my favorite subject these days, but I want to just hit it again, and to those I haven't visited with, just urge you to help us if you possibly can. This Fast Track authority question is absolutely fundamental to our major foreign policy objectives.
And we can't look at it narrowly. We've got to look at in terms of the big foreign policy picture. And I'm not talking just about the importance of getting an agreement with Europe; I'm talking about our friends to the south, about the potential that lies in a democratic South America. And I'm not talking there just Mexico and beyond.
And so, we have here a subject I want to talk about in a little more detail, but I want to put it into that broad foreign policy context. It is in the vital national interest of the United States that we get this Fast Track authority, not just to hammer out a successful conclusion to the GATT round but to get this free trade agreement with Mexico, which will show that we are not discriminating by simply looking one direction, that we recognize the potential of our neighbors to the south who are our friends, and that we want to support the change that is so exciting that's taking place to our south.
So, as you know, and maybe Carla -- did you talk about the letters today? Well, I've sent up to the Congress our views on these opportunities that are offered. And maybe you've gotten the details of the response to Lloyd Bentsen, Dan Rostenkowski, and Dick Gephardt to very important letters that we got from them. And they have a constitutional responsibility. They are entitled to our full cooperation and consultation. And I think we've responded, thanks to Carla's leadership, in a very forthcoming way to understandable concerns.
There were two points that our response to the Congress made crystal clear. One is that we've got to seize the opportunities that are afforded by this North American free trade agreement because it's in our interest -- the point I made to you. And then the second one is that we are determined -- and this is the one of vital importance to Members of Congress and to many in this room -- that we're determined to work with Mexico to address the labor and environmental issues that are of common concern.
We also, in these undertakings, make a commitment to negotiate an agreement with all the transition and adjustment provisions necessary to avoid disruptions at home. I would not be pressing this if I felt that this was going to be detrimental to the Americans that needs jobs, or Americans that have jobs. And our response also demonstrates how and why economic growth and enhanced cooperation between our governments -- made possible by this North American free trade agreement -- help dramatically improve labor conditions and also environmental protection.
I'm sure it won't work the way our critics say. In other words, they say it's going to be bad for American jobs, more people thrown out of work. And they say, bad for the environment. And I don't agree with either of them. In fact, I think we've got very good answers on the opposite sides of those two allegations.
The central issue in the Fast Track debate is whether we're going to remain a leader in opening markets and in expanding trade. Everyone in this room knows that exports are absolutely essential, that they're more vital than ever to our own economic growth. And, look, the stakes are high. Nobody's hiding that fact. There are high stakes in this. And with Fast Track we can complete that Uruguay round.
We've gone through like a roller coaster -- ups and downs -- as Carla's tried to hammer out an agreement in the GATT that would be good for all of us. And it's been difficult. But I am convinced that we can complete that Uruguay round and also this North American free trade agreement -- NAFTA -- and lay the bases for our continued competitive success in world markets. And it will carry us well into the next century, in my view. And without Fast Track we're going to lose our ability to achieve these ambitious and important goals. I don't believe protection or isolation or quasi-isolation can do anything other than diminish the growth that is essential in this country, essential to the well-being of all American families.
And I might say today, I was very pleased to see those interest rates come down a little, speaking of growth and getting this economy going.
In the response that Carla helped fashion and that we sent up today, I've given Congress a personal commitment to close the -- to have the best possible cooperation -- best possible cooperation and consultation in the NAFTA, in the Uruguay round, and beyond. And beyond, I'm talking about the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative.
I'm giving my assurance that we take the time necessary to conclude agreements in which the Congress, the administration, the private sector, indeed, all Americans can take pride. There's a timeliness here in getting this Fast Track approved. But the very fact that we're rushing and trying and driving to get that done by dates certain does not mean that we have to rush in thereafter to some bad agreement. We're not going to do it. We could have made a bad agreement long ago.
One night I asked the telephone operators here, I said, ``Would you please get Ambassador Hills?'' It was about 5 or 6 in the evening. But they're so efficient, you know. And the phone answered, ``Hellooo'' -- sound asleep. I'd gotten her -- it's 3 in the morning in some foreign country -- [laughter] -- and back in those days, hammering out, hammering, working hard, trying to eliminate these difficulties. We could have had a bad agreement a long time ago. And she just kept saying no, and had this tough role of moving this thing forward correctly.
So, don't confuse the speed and the urgency of getting this Fast Track authority with the fact that that would lead us to hastily make a bad deal. We're not going to do it. And Carla knows the Congress well, and I know the Congress well, and they are entitled to have us bring back an agreement that we can wholly, enthusiastically endorse. And that's exactly the kind of agreement that I believe we can get.
So, again, I will end where I began: We need your help. And I am fully involved in this. Carla, obviously, is fully involved in it. Our whole Cabinet is energized. We're talking to as many groups as we can. I've been to Texas and to California to visit mainly with Mexican-Americans, but Hispanic groups. There's a lot at stake in this point. And it's something I feel strongly about in my heart. I don't want anybody to be able to allege that we're using different standards here in setting out agreements -- one for the north, one for the south. We're not going to do that. We're not going to do it because it isn't right. And we're going to approach Mexico as the trusted friend and partner that they are. And if there's anybody that deserves this kind of consideration, it is President Salinas in Mexico, who has already made some dramatic changes in that society and in that economy and in his approach to the environment and in his support on the questions of law and order. And he is entitled to a fair shake on all of this, and I am determined that he get it. So, we're going to go forward as best we can.
Did you tell them about Salinas' commitment to the environment?
Ambassador Hills. Not your story -- --
The President. Well, the story is really beautiful because what it is -- and it really touched me as a grandfather of thousands. [Laughter] But I know some of you will be as moved by it as I was. I mean, this man is committed. He has shut down the largest polluting refinery in Mexico over the -- and had to fight to do this, had to fight special interests to get this done. And he did it because of the commitment to the environment.
But the story that he tells is about how the children in Mexico, particularly Mexico City, when they paint a picture of the sky at night, it's gray or black. And he said, ``I want these children to paint the sky with stars in it.'' And he is determined that they do, that you don't have a 6-year-old in the first grade who never sees the stars because of the environmental pollution. And it's a commitment. I mean, that's an emotional portrayal of his commitment that he has subsequently demonstrated in many, many ways.
So, I've got to convince the Members of Congress on these questions of labor, questions of the environment. We've got to explain that Mexico's economic success -- it isn't a threat to us, it's an opportunity. It's an enormous opportunity. I just got a question over there about the -- questions on the border. I'm from Texas, and I know some of the border problems and I know, in the past, how we kind of fenced with each other about these border problems that exist, whether it's people that come here illegally or whether it's the drug question.
But I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that we're getting superb cooperation. That isn't to say we don't have a ways to go. But we want to work with these people in that way. They're our friends. They're our future, in a sense, because we have an enormous potential market there and on below. And we're committed to the democracy that is sweeping most of South America.
So, I get very intense on this question because I really believe it is in our interest. And as people struggle to improve their societies, we ought to be in there helping. And it will help Mexico, but it will also help the United States.
So, on these technical questions that are of understandable concern to the labor unions or to the environmentalists, we understand their concerns, and Carla has done a superb job of answering those concerns.
Again, we need you. This is a team effort. It is not going to get done by the most able Trade Representative we have, by the President, by any individual member of the Cabinet. We've got to get this done by people like yourselves weighing in where you can with these Members of Congress. And I pledge to you that I will go the extra mile because I am absolutely certain it is in the best interest of this country we all love so much.
Thank you very, very much.
Note: The President spoke at 2:49 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to U.S. Trade Representative Carla A. Hills, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Representatives Richard A. Gephardt and Dan Rostenkowski, and President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico.