WASHINGTON -- President Reagan, in a blow to the import-battered textile, shoe and copper industries, backed up his tough talk on free trade with a veto expected to slow -- if not halt -- a march by Congress toward protectionism.
Reagan, 'deeply sympathetic' about job losses but adamantly opposed to protectionism, vetoed legislation Tuesday night that would have given relief to three major industries -- each with powerful backers in Congress.
'It is my firm conviction that the economic and human costs of such a bill run far too high -- costs in foreign retaliation against U.S. exports, loss of American jobs, losses to American businesses and damage to the world trading system upon which our prosperity depends,' he said in his veto message.
'We want to open marketsabroad, not close them at home,' he said.
Beating a midnight deadline for action by slightly more than one hour, Reagan sent Congress his strongest signal to date and asserted foreign competition must be fought through enforcement of the trade laws rather than protectionism.
In lieu of reduced quotas and other steps to restrain imports, Reagan pledged 'to do everything possible to combat unfair trade practices,' but added, 'in doing so, we must take wise and and positive steps to redress wrongs.'
'To do otherwise,' he contended, 'would be counterproductive.'
Reagan tried to offer the battered textile industry a ray of hope by ordering:
-A 60-day investigation into whether textile imports exceed agreed-upon limits.
-An additional $100 million to help retrain and relocate displaced workers.
-Steps to 'most aggressively renegotiate' the Multi-Fiber Arrangement governing textile imports and exports 'on terms no less favorable than present.'
'Our trading partners must be put on notice that we will not allow unfair trading practices to continue,' Reagan declared.
The countermeasures reflected a drive initiated by Reagan in September to shift the focus of the debate -- fueled by frustration over a trade deficit expected to top $140 billion this year -- from protectionist steps in Congress to more vigorous pursuit of unfair-trade complaints under existing laws and agreements.
Reagan used the same rationale in denying much-sought relief to the copper industry last year and similar help to American shoe manufacturers in August.
Textile-state lawmakers and industry representatives reacted to Reagan's veto with disappointment.
AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland said today Reagan made a 'sad and costly mistake' in vetoing the bill.
'No longer satisfied with a trade policy of benign neglect, the president has acted to accelerate the decline of key domestic industries and the destruction of American workers' jobs,' Kirkland said in a statement.
'There's no program here for the industry,' Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., said of the alternatives promised by Reagan.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., an influential representative of textile interests, said Reagan 'heeded bad advice in vetoing this bill.' He forecast 'more layoffs, more plant shutdowns and more long-term economic damage to an industry that is crucial to this nation.'
Rep. Bill Alexander, D-Ark., chairman of the congressional footwear caucus, said Reagan's veto 'left coal in the stockings of hard-working Americans suffering from unfair foreign competition.'
Ellison S. McKissick, president of the industry-backed American Textile Manufacturers Institute, said: 'We have heard proposals to remedy the problem such as the president is suggesting, but they have not worked and no one should be fooled into thinking they will work now.'