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Text: U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor Remarks at the National Press Club

We are in the midst of the most fluid and far-reaching economic change since Americans left their farms for factories. The last 25 years have unleashed unprecedented and unparalleled domestic and global competition. Combined with the end of the Cold War and breathtaking technological innovation, we are confronting economic and social challenges that now link our national and economic security. We can no longer separate America's economic success from our strategic or political concerns at home and abroad. Keeping America economically strong and vital is and will be a national security issue.

When President Clinton took office three years ago, the economic challenges facing our country were staggering -- a sluggish economy, stagnant personal incomes, unemployment at 7.4 percent, a deteriorating competitive edge. The painful sum total was a nation with its confidence shaken and with a skeptical attitude toward the emerging global economy, a nation without a vision for the future.

The president's response was bold and decisive as he moved to restore our domestic economy. President Clinton cut taxes on small businesses and working families while reducing the growing deficit to free up money for savings and investments that are the keys to economic growth. He recognized the global nature of the post-Cold War economy and made trade opportunities and open markets the centerpiece of America's role. He targeted education and technology and R&D as national priorities. From the start, this administration understood that the old rules -- the Cold War rules -- didn't work any more in a world driven by economics as much as geopolitics.

America is winning again:

-- The Congressional Budget Office said that by the end of this year, the budget deficit will be less than half what it was four years ago -- and the percentage of the deficit to our GDP is the lowest since 1979. In fact, we'd be running a budget surplus right now if not for the interest on the debt accumulated from the previous 12 years.

-- 8.5 million new jobs have been created, 93 percent of them in the private sector. This is the highest percentage of jobs created by the private sector since Harry Truman was president.

-- For the first time in a decade, average real wages are rising.

-- The Misery Index -- the annually combined unemployment and inflation rates -- is at its lowest level since 1968.

-- We've had 13 consecutive quarters of economic growth.

-- By the eve of 1997 we will have the smallest federal government since John F. Kennedy was sworn in on January 20, 1961.

-- Exports increased last year by $82,000 million for the United States, the largest dollar increase of any nation in all of human history.

-- America has returned to the top of the goods and services list of the world's most competitive and productive economies for three years in a row.

These aggregate trends are having a day-to-day impact on households and communities throughout the nation. For three years in a row, we have had a record number of new businesses started. Our manufacturing industries are rebounding. Home ownership is at a 14-year high.

Even with a successful economic strategy that is increasing wealth and raising incomes with lower inflation; with a policy of investing in education and technology and innovation to stimulate new jobs and industries; with a policy of putting people first and keeping people first -- some continue to push voodoo-redo-deja-vu-all-over-again economics. They want to revive the failed ways of supply-side economics, when our deficit tripled, our capacity to produce and get ahead was exhausted, and our economic growth was swamped under staggering debt.

We must remain focused, disciplined, and committed to growth and opportunity. The American economy will continue to generate more jobs and higher incomes. We are and will be the preeminent economic power in a changing global economy. However, we can do this only if we continue to pursue President Clinton's policies that spur investments in technology and education, that enforce fair and open trade, that balance the budget and offer tax relief for the middle class, and that look to create opportunity in every American community.

First, to hold on to our competitive advantage, we must continue to invest in American businesses and workers. It is new, more efficient, more useful products that are at the very core of American competitiveness and productivity and the technology and innovation they require fuels our economic engine. Proposals to eliminate funding for science and technology, to short-change our ability to generate world-class information, or to cut research and development, are not only short-sighted, they are a threat to our nation's future. Does it make economic sense to take the view that the private sector and government can simply ignore key growth sectors like high-tech and telecommunications? Or to make it harder and more costly for young people to go to college or to get the training they need for jobs? We have no choice, but to invest -- privately as well as publicly -- in technology, information, and the skills of the American people if we are to stay ahead of our competitors.

For the last 50 years, innovation and technology have been responsible for half of our nation's economic growth. But we've never seen technology move with the speed that it does today. Product cycles are now measured in months rather than years. In the computer industry, for example, almost 80 percent of revenues come from products that didn't even exist two years ago. Firms that both employ modern technologies and export pay wages that are, on average, 16 percent higher than the wages paid at firms that aren't using advanced technologies and don't seek international customers. And they create 36 percent more jobs. That is why technology, information and innovation are the foundation of America's competitive edge.

Second, our nation today comprises just four percent of the world's population. That means America's future prosperity -- the jobs we'll want, the paychecks we'll need, the new industries and opportunities we'll require -- will depend on how we do business with the 96 percent of the world population beyond our borders. These are growing opportunities involving emerging and fast-growing markets.

That is encouraging news for us. The American economy has never been more successful in our trade with the world. In 1995, trade in goods, services, and investments totaled over 2,000,000 million dollars -- supporting 11 million jobs with exports alone. We must continue opening markets abroad and insisting on fair and open trade. The world-class products and services produced by American companies can compete and win anywhere, given a level playing field.

President Clinton was very clear about this in one of his earliest speeches when he said: "We will continue to welcome foreign products and services into our markets, but insist that our products and services be able to enter theirs on equal terms." Since then, the administration has negotiated over 200 trade agreements and has put teeth into both expanding trade and enforcement. We have exercised U.S. trade laws over 140 times, clearly the most active trade enforcement record in American history.

A national network of export assistance centers has been established to give U.S. firms greater access to export data. An Advocacy Center has been created at the Commerce Department to track foreign contact opportunities and assure our companies the same high level government support that their competitors receive. Both have been tied to our embassies and foreign commercial services officers. It is the most extensive, aggressive and successful export system of its kind.

President Clinton's leadership has led to a FTAA and an APEC commitment to open trade -- encompassing the two fastest growing economic regions on earth. The administration completed the largest trade agreement in history, the Uruguay Round, and the largest regional pact in history, NAFTA. Each ensures American goods and services will have greater access to the most dynamic markets and that unfair barriers to trade will be lifted.

And, most recently, the U.S. Trade Representative's office set up a trade law enforcement unit, which I announced here last January. This unit will be working in partnership with the newly-formed Commerce Department Compliance Center to assure that trade agreements are honored, as well as signed. Our trading partners cannot access our markets with 21st century technologies while adhering to 19th century trade rules. Putting an end to bribery and corruption as well as trade barriers involving labor standards, environmental issues, anti-trust laws, and investment protections must be addressed and are an important part of playing by 21st century rules. Our standard of living as we approach the 21st century will be enhanced by our commitment to open and fair trade.

The reality is that my young daughter, Alix, like the sons and daughters of those in this audience, is growing up in a world vastly different from those of my generation. These youngsters literally are not going to have a higher standard of living unless every American has opportunity and is economically empowered. She and her peers will go up or down together, regardless of the circumstances in which they grew up. Because in the end our kids aren't going to compete with one another for jobs or opportunities; their competition for jobs and opportunities will come from Asia, Latin America and the rest of the world.

We cannot afford to waste the talents, the potential, and the energy of any person or community in our country. As America continues to grow economically, we must nurture development and promote opportunity in the rural and inner-city areas that generate too much despair and too little economic growth. This is not simply a matter of social conscience but a national priority to create more and more productive elements of the nation's economy.

As advanced technologies and new industries emerge, the challenge will be to have a workforce able to answer the call. One business executive told me the challenge is to make people employable and not just employed. That idea has been embraced throughout our nation's history. At the beginning of this century, only 6.4 percent of Americans had more than a grade school education. By 1980, two-thirds of the work force had a high school diploma.

American workers have always pushed themselves to stay on the cutting-edge -- learning to master new systems, to handle new tools, and adopt new techniques. Today, 76 million Americans -- 40 percent of adult Americans -- are receiving some form of training or adult education. Never has it been more important to ensure people rise to the challenges of greater education, and we should view the notion of "lifetime learning" for workers as an investment that will pay dividends through every level of our economy.

Our nation's resources, innovation, technology and work ethic will enable us to do much better than the conventional wisdom says we can. Growth is the sum of decisions made by private citizens every day -- every time we sell a product abroad, every time an ambitious entrepreneur invests time and money in a powerful new idea, every time a business hires a worker with new skills, that is where growth happens.

We can not sit on the sidelines, or act as if we have no control over our fortunes. Our broad economic goals for the 21st century must address the rapidly changing nature of the American economy. We have got to grow to empower all Americans with the jobs, opportunities and security to move into this global economy with confidence and a sense of promise. That's the exact path we are on, and the dividends are already evident. While some are mired in the past, trying to revive failed policies, this president is investing in productive workers, cutting edge technologies and opportunities to succeed around the world. This administration has every confidence in the ability of American business and workers to innovate, compete, grow and prosper -- and we are working to let them do just that.

The question is whether we move aggressively and surely into the 21st century global economy or whether we try to shrink from it. President Clinton came to office with a vision for a future in which all Americans can achieve and excel and claim their own piece of the American dream. He recognized that we must embrace change to meet the challenges of the new century, that we cannot turn back the clock to days of isolation and retreat nor revisit failed policies that divided rather than united.

Technology, trade, information and education are, together, a formula for investing in America. The same values that moved us from subsistence farming to mechanized agriculture to industrialization to a post-Cold War technology and information-age society can take us into the 21st century. The years ahead can be America's best. In putting and keeping people first, President Clinton's vision is working for America and for the future of all Americans.