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    Has Public Support for Free Trade Reached its Peak?


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2006

    A recent survey in the United States and Europe indicates the challenge facing communicators in turning support for trade into further lowering of trade barriers.

    According to the German Marshall Fund of the United States, in all six countries it surveyed in 2005 and 2006, people's views on globalization are more favourable compared to last year. Majorities in each country favour foreign companies investing in their markets. Most people in Europe also support lowering tariffs and other trade barriers.

    So far so good. But 55% of people questioned in France and 31% in the United States do not favour freer trade, because of fears over job losses and competition.

    Perspectives on Trade and Poverty Reduction, a survey of transatlantic public opinion now in its third year, shows that most Americans and Europeans appreciate the economic benefits of free trade and believe it contributes to democracy, global stability and prosperity.

    But when asked about the impact of freer trade on jobs and businesses, many remain anxious about import dependency, and most are concerned about competing against China's growing economic power.

    Skills gap is a worry

    When it comes to meeting the competitive challenge, the vast majority (94%) of Americans and Europeans believes that investing in education, job training and technology comes before pro-business tax and regulation reforms (74%), trade and foreign direct investment promotion (64% and 70%), or making it easier to hire and fire workers (49%).

    Aid for trade is a win-win

    Three out of four surveyed are keen to promote trade with poor countries, a level of approval that is in line with transatlantic support for development assistance. Just as many believe "aid for trade" - aid that helps poor countries benefit from international commerce - will benefit their own economies.

    The German Marshall Fund used computer-assisted telephone interviews to conduct the survey, except in Poland and Slovakia. It interviewed a random sample of approximately 1,000 people, 18 years of age and older, in each country, between 5 and 25 September 2006.

    The German Marshall Fund of the United States  is an American non-partisan public policy and grant-making institution dedicated to promoting greater cooperation and understanding between the United States and Europe.

    All references to Europe refer to France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and the United Kingdom. Slovakia was new in the survey in 2006.

    Surveys like this one are in scarce supply, especially in developing countries. There is little information available about how people view trade, particularly comparing attitudes between countries and regions.

    We've highlighted findings we think will be of interest to Trade Forum readers: aid for trade, competitiveness and the link between trade and democracy.



    This article and the charts opposite draw from the survey's Key Findings Report 2006. For the full report, see http://www.gmfus.org/doc/GMF_TradeSurvey%202006.pdf