Remarks by President George W. Bush on Trade
at the 2016 NASCO Continental Reunion
George W. Bush Presidential Center
November 15, 2016
Thank you. Welcome to the Bush Center. We’re really proud of this place. I want to thank Ken Hersh for leading it. The real key – a challenge here is to make sure it exists beyond our time on earth – which, hopefully, is later rather than sooner. (Laughter.) But at age 70, I’m beginning to see…I realize we’re on the back nine. So Ken’s job is to make sure we’re relevant, and that the programs have lasting impact to make our country a better place.
I also want to thank Holly Kuzmich, who is the [Executive Director of the Bush Institute]. She makes the programs work. I want to thank Matt Rooney, whom you’ll hear from in a minute and is leading our economic growth agenda.
With us is the former Speaker of the House of South Carolina and our Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins. David, good to see you. (Applause.) Everybody likes a nice round of applause. I also want to thank the NASCO folks, Ken Allen and Tiffany Melvin, for what you’re doing and helping organize this conference.
What we’re going to talk about is important, but before we do so I want to get to the news of the day. Maybe some of you haven’t seen the Dallas Morning News, but we announced yesterday that we have a new puppy in our family. (Laughter.) Laura and I went over to the SPCA [of Texas] to check out this really fine facility here in Dallas. My advice, if you’re not interested in getting a dog, don’t go to the SPCA. (Laughter.) So Freddy has joined Bernie and Bob – Bernie’s a cat, as is Bob. The adjustment hasn’t been quite as smooth as we hoped; the cats are still somewhat irritated. Laura sends her best. She’s doing great by the way. She’s a grandmother, which makes me a grandfather. (Laughter.) Our life is great being grandparents. It’s one of these things that’s never overrated.
Since I’ve seen some of you – a lot of you I’ve never seen before – you just need to know I’ve become a sensitive artist. I paint. (Laughter.) The reason I tell you that is I’m actually promoting a new book that I’m putting out. I painted the portraits of  warriors, all of whom were injured as a result of my commands, all of whom are tremendous assets to the future of our country. Many are suffering from the invisible wounds of war, and one of the things we are doing here – and I will continue to do for the rest of my life – is helping our vets transition from the military to civilian life. I tell you that only because I’d like you to buy the book. (Laughter.)
Now having said all that, policy really matters to me, a lot. I’m pretty much out of the political world. I’m interested in politics, but I don’t think it’s helpful for the country to have a former President criticize successors. It’s a hard job to begin with, and I really don’t think it helps to make it any harder.
On the other hand, as Ken mentioned, the [Bush] Center is a place to work out passions and defend certain principles. And one of the passions is, how do we make sure that our country is economically competitive in the world, and that the people who live in America are able to get a good job at a good wage? I mean, you run for President because you care about people. And making sure that the environment is right for investment and the environment is right for the growth of small businesses is an integral part of what it means to be President.
Here at the Bush Center we put out a book called The 4% Solution about what policies would help this economy grow at 4%. It starts with an optimistic view of the American economy that we can grow at 4%. It’s happened in the past, and it can happen in the future with the right kind of policies, which we believe starts with free markets and free enterprise.
When the economy is stagnant and when wage growth is not prevalent in a lot of parts of any country, people become very frustrated. They become angry, they become frustrated in their lives. And that gets reflected in the political process. I think that’s part of what was taking place in this recent election. People were sick and tired of the status quo, and they are insisting that leadership analyze what’s right and what’s wrong and do something about it. High taxes can stifle growth. Overregulation can stifle growth.
One of the things that’s important for the people who are frustrated and angry, a lot of the working people in our country, is that in order to close the wage gap, for example, trade is beneficial. Here’s one way to look at it: America is 5% of the world’s population. In other words, 95% of consumers are outside our borders who, if given a chance, might buy American goods and services. We live in a global world, and if I were a worker, I’d want to make sure that something I made had a chance to be bought somewhere else. Of course in America, but if there was a demand for goods or service, I would hope that the playing field would be level enough so that I can compete.
One way for the worker to think about it, is our leaders must have confidence. We can compete with anybody, anywhere, our workers can – so long as it’s fair. And so the job of the President is to recognize that trade encourages growth, and fair trade is important for the workers of our respective countries.
Trade shows a confidence in our workers and in our business people, because trade really means we’re willing to compete. And so the fundamental question is: is competition good for the American people, or the people of Mexico, or the people in Canada?
Well, here’s some things that I hope people consider: Workers in in trade intensive industries earn 18% more than others in similar jobs. In other words, jobs where companies sell to consumers outside the United States, people get paid more.
Secondly, small businesses benefit with trade. Now look, here’s the key thing about America: most new jobs are created by small businesses. Job growth in the private sector is necessary to achieve wage increases. You can’t have wages going up if the economy is stagnant. So, therefore, if you want to deal with a stagnant economy, it’s important to understand the importance of small businesses. Small businesses get overwhelmed by regulations; small businesses can pay too many taxes and therefore less capital to invest; but many small businesses trade. They export and depend upon trade deals in order for them to be able to sell their goods and services.
Finally, it’s important for people in our country to understand that competition for their dollar means that prices will be more reasonable. In other words, if you’ve got suppliers competing for your attention, one way to get that attention is through quality, another way is through price. It’s in our interests that we have people selling in the United States to compete for the U.S. consumer. And so, many argue that consumers benefit because the purchasing power of the consumer is increased by about 30% as a result of trade.
And so here are some reasons people need to think about it in a positive light. Now, look, I understand anger. Some people might have been angry when I was President. (Laughter.) But anger shouldn’t drive policy. What needs to drive policy is what’s best for the people who are angry, and how does that benefit people in our country and countries in our neighborhood.
The other thing that is interesting about trade if you really analyze it – trade and investment drive technological innovation. I remember when I was the Governor of Texas, there weren’t a lot of people developing apps. And all of the sudden, the world becomes innovative and it changes and the dynamic changes of how people make a living. And that’s important to recognize – in an innovative, driven world, there is a lot of change. Now, again, I understand that the transformation of our economy creates angst. And the fundamental question is – what do we do about it? Deny reality, or adjust? I think it’s in the interest of the working people that we adjust.
I remember going to North Carolina and it used to be one of the leading textile manufacturing states in the country. Competition was such that while there’s trade, jobs disappeared, and it was very painful for a lot of people. But an interesting thing took place. Workers who were displaced received help and training for new jobs. And North Carolina diversified, and they became a high-tech hub and a hub for innovative health care, and workers were helped to better understand those jobs which paid more.
And so the question is, are we going to be a dynamic economy or a stagnant economy? I think we ought to be a dynamic economy. A lot of it centers on helping people understand the realities of the world in a positive way.
NAFTA – I know, somebody said, “It’s a four-letter word.” No, it’s a five-letter word. (Laughter). I remember as a kid growing up in Texas and going down to the valley, the Rio Grande Valley. It was like going in to a third-world country, on both sides of the border. I would urge people to go down to the border now and see how transformed the border is. There’s a thriving middle class on both sides of the Rio Grande River. It’s in our interests as a nation that that be the case. There have been 30 million new jobs since NAFTA had been created.
You know, we’re at an interesting moment – do we build on the strengths or not? Our group here believes we ought to build on the strengths. A strength for our respective countries is the willingness to work together – Canada, Mexico, and the United States.
People say, ‘Oh man, how can we possibly compete with an emerging economy like China?’ You know, ‘We’re doomed!’ I don’t know if you hear that in Mexico and Canada, but occasionally you hear it in the United States. ‘We can’t possibly survive and compete against this giant resource-rich country with a lot of people.’ And the answer is, of course we can. Of course we can, and we can do it better when we work together.
One of the things we do at the Bush Center is analyze our market, compare it to Canada, and study how we do well and what areas we need to improve. And Matt Rooney is going to talk to you about that today—how we can better work together and partner together.
One of the things that is important to understand is that the United States workers, the Mexican workers, the Canadian workers work together to make products to sell to the world. It’s a win-win-win. We’re not pirating from each other, we’re working together to be more competitive in an ever changing world. And that’s what we’re going to do here at the Bush Center, make sure that we benefit the workers in our respective countries by collaborating, by being partners.
Here are some examples for you: So, Learjet is a big American brand that had economic problems and a Canadian company Bombardier came in and saw potential, partnered up, and Learjet is doing well. Canadian capital saved U.S. jobs in this example.
We’ve got some folks here from Scarbrough International, Roger and Jeannie. These are classic small business owners. They had an idea, were willing to risk capital. They’ve discovered that being a small business owner is not easy, and they have built – and are building a midsized provider for shipping and warehousing to customers all throughout the Midwest, many of which, are asking them to expedite trade with Mexico. In other words, small businesses manufacturing products that Mexicans will buy and this small business’ job is to make it easier. In other words, how to help these jobs that manufacturers are providing here in America be sustainable. What’s required to make your job better? That’s their job, and therefore they’re now in a position to employ people.
It’s really important for the American citizen to understand that it’s the small business person who oftentimes benefits from trade, the entrepreneur who when he or she can find new markets and has got a good idea, is able to benefit. Our question at the Bush Center is, what do we need to do to facilitate this alliance to benefit our respective peoples?
So you’re going to hear from Matt Rooney – who, by the way, has done a really good job of assembling a very strong group of people who are all interested in thinking strategically about the future. We’re coming up with some constructive ideas. This is just the beginning, by the way, of doing our part to enhance the economic vitality of our neighborhood.
When Mexico is strong economically, America benefits. When Canada is strong economically, America benefits. And as America benefits, those who work hard for a living benefit as well. I want to thank you very much for your input. I want to thank you for your interest, and we look forward to continuing to work with you. Thank you.