Remembering President George H.W. Bush’s Trade Legacy

In action and words, President George H.W. Bush was a leader in the fight against protectionist trade policies.

His administration’s historic successes include negotiations that led to two of the most successful deals in American history: The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which eliminated most barriers to trade between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and the Uruguay Round agreement, which created the World Trade Organization (WTO) and which contained tariff cuts that, at the time, represented the largest tax cut in history.

President George H.W. Bush’s words remain relevant in a time in which many elected officials have turned their backs on the post-World War II consensus that brought Americans better jobs and unprecedented economic growth through free trade.


Southern Methodist University Commencement Address:

"The defeatists, well, they pretend that trade is zero-sum game, where one partner's gain must be offset by another's loss. But once again they're wrong, demonstrably wrong, and I refuse to squander the gains of the last generation and the hopes of coming generations in this crabbed misreading of America's place in the world.”

Remarks to the American Farm Bureau Federation in Orlando, Florida:

“But in the coming decade, the American farmer must have a level playing field in the international trade arena, too. And the way to fight trade barriers is through negotiation, not reciprocal protectionism.”  

Remarks at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Carla A. Hills as United States Trade Representative:

Ladies and gentlemen, the goal of this administration's trade policy, simply put, is to open markets, not close them; to fight protectionism, not to give in to it. We don't want an America that is closed to the world. What we want is a world that is open to America.  

Remarks to the National Assembly in Seoul:

“Protectionism is fool's gold. Protectionism may seem to be the easy way out but is really the quickest way down.”  

Remarks at the Initialing Ceremony for the North American Free Trade Agreement in San Antonio, Texas:

“I know for some NAFTA will be controversial precisely because it opens the way to change. Some of NAFTA's critics will fight the future, throw obstacles in the way of this agreement, to mask a policy of protectionism. But history shows us that any nation that raises walls and turns inward is destined only for decline. We cannot make that choice for ourselves or for our children. We must set our course for the future, for free trade.”

Remarks Announcing the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative:

The great economic lesson of this century is that protectionism still stifles progress and free markets breed prosperity.

Proclamation 6139—World Trade Week, 1990:

“As we enter the last decade of the 20th century, it is fitting that we prepare to do business -- global business -- in the 21st. Because our participation in international trade has become essential to the Nation's strength and prosperity, it must continue to increase.”

Message to Congressional Leaders Transmitting the 1991 Economic Report:

“My Administration will continue to push aggressively for open markets in all nations, including our own, and will continue to oppose protectionism. Protectionist trade barriers impose burdens on the many to serve the interests of the few and can only reduce the Nation's competitiveness. Government attempts to overrule the decisions of the international marketplace and to manage trade or investment flows inevitably reduce economic flexibility and lower living standards.”

Remarks to the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of the Ukraine in Kiev, Soviet Union:

“Adam Smith noted two centuries ago, trade enriches all who engage in it. Isolation and protectionism doom its practitioners to degradation and want.”

Remarks to the Future Farmers of America in Kansas City, Missouri:

“I am not going to apologize for a single moment that I devote to promoting America's interests abroad. Some of my critics act as if the global marketplace is off somewhere in Asia or in Europe. But you and I know it is right here in Kansas City and in Birmingham and Bakersfield and the Silicon Valley.”

Remarks to World War II Veterans and Families in Honolulu, Hawaii:

“As in 1919 and 1945, we face no enemy menacing our security. And yet we stand here today on the site of a tragedy spawned by isolationism. And we must learn, and this time avoid, the dangers of today's isolationism and its economic accomplice, protectionism. To do otherwise, to believe that turning our backs on the world would improve our lot here at home, is to ignore the tragic lessons of the 20th century.”

Remarks to the American Farm Bureau Federation in Kansas City, Missouri:

“Look, we all know that protectionism boils down to defeatism. If you don't trust your product, you try to keep others from sampling the competition. But if you trust your handiwork, you see foreign markets as a great opportunity.”

Remarks to the Georgia Republican Party in Atlanta, Georgia:

“So, get past all the tough talk out there, all the patriotic posturing about fighting back by shutting out foreign goods. If this country starts closing its markets, other countries will close theirs. And when that happened, who gets hurt? Easy, we do. Our economy does.”

Remarks at the Bush-Quayle South Florida Rally in Hialeah, Florida:

“And as for me, I'm going to keep working to increase the flow of foreign trade and investment which is the lifeblood of modern Miami. We will not go back to the sorry, sad, pessimistic days of protectionism.”

Remarks to Federal Express Employees in Memphis, Tennessee:

“Don't be fooled by the tough talk and the patriotic political bluster out there. Protectionism comes from fear, fear that Americans can't compete, fear that Americans have no ideas and no foresight, fear that America can no longer lead.”

Remarks at McGill University:

“Some people are using [the] uncertainty and ambiguity of the moment to create a momentum for turning America selfishly inward, away from the world. And even though they deny it, they advocate policies that amount to protectionism and isolationism. Their slogans: ‘Come Home America.’ ‘America First.’ This is selfish. This is beneath the history of our great country.”

Remarks at a Bush-Quayle Fundraising Dinner in Chicago:

We hear the opponents peddling protectionism, a retreat from economic reality. You cut through all the patriotic posturing, all the tough talk about fighting back by closing shop, and look closely. That is not the American flag they're waving. It's the white flag of surrender. And that is not the America that you and I know.

Remarks at the Florida International University Commencement Ceremony in Miami Beach, Florida:

“Now, I know that there are some who see a different future, people who want to sound retreat, run from the new realities, seek refuge in a dream world of economic isolationism or protectionism. Those voices have nothing to say to this Nation.”

Remarks on Signing the North American Free Trade Agreement:

This hemisphere can be as well a zone of peace, where trade flows freely, prosperity is shared, the rule of law is respected, and the gifts of human knowledge are harnessed for all. More than 150 years ago, Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, whose statue stands outside this hall, spoke about an America united in heart, subject to one law, and guided by the torch of liberty. My friends, here in this hemisphere we are on the way to realizing Simon Bolivar's dream. And today with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, we take another giant step towards making the dream a reality.