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Digest of Polls Shows Modest American Support For New Free Trade Agreements in PacificNovember 10, 2011
As the leaders of the United States and other members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum prepare for the annual APEC summit with an eye to furthering free trade in the Pacific region, newly updated digests of American and international public opinion present some striking findings on what US citizens think about trade.
Despite the economic downturn, American public support for international trade and globalization remains fairly strong. Nevertheless, American support for free trade agreements with Pacific nations, after rising before the economic crisis, has since softened.
These digests have been developed by the Council on Foreign Relation's International Institutions and Global Governance program and the Program on International Policy Attitudes. They provide comprehensive analyses of international and US polls on the world's most pressing challenges -- and the institutions designed to address them. The digest of US opinion on the global economy can be found here and the digest of comparative international polling here. Analysis of these findings by Stewart Patrick can be found on his blog.
The digest of US opinion found various polls showing Americans continue to view globalization with a broadly positive attitude. For example, in a 2011 Pew poll, 67% of Americans said that "the growing trade and business ties between our country and other countries" is positive for the United States--the same proportion of people who felt this way in 2009 (65%) and 2010 (66%).
However, US public support for free trade agreements with specific nations, including Asian nations, has fallen off recently. Polling from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that examined willingness to "have a free trade agreement that would lower barriers such as tariffs" with several Pacific countries elicited more negative responses. For Japan, China, and South Korea, support dropped between 2008 and 2010 after having risen substantially between 2006 and 2008.
Support for a free trade agreement with Japan was at majority levels in 2010, with 52% in favor. However this was down from 59% in 2008.
Only 37% of Americans supported a free trade agreement with China in 2010, down from 41 % in 2008. This may be related to the same poll's finding that 63% assumed that Chinese trade practices were unfair.
Attitudes about free trade with South Korea--with which the US just ratified a free trade agreement in October--have varied depending on how it was asked. In the 2010 CCGA poll, when simply asked whether the US should have a free trade agreement with South Korea, support was just 37%, down from 49% in 2008.
However, when respondents were asked to consider the pros and cons of a free trade agreement, support was substantially higher. With a separate sample CCGA first presented arguments saying "supporters...argue [the FTA] will create new jobs in the United States, and strengthen our relationship with an important strategic and trading partner," while "opponents argue that the agreement would not provide enough access to South Korean markets" and "would result in lost jobs for American workers." Presented this way, support was 10 points higher at 47 percent, with 44 percent opposed.
Furthermore, once Congress was considering the free trade agreement and Gallup asked in 2011 about how Congress should act, 53 percent said that Congress should pass it. Presumably, just the fact that Congress was considering the agreement lent it greater credibility.
The digests also reveal that trade adjustment assistance (TAA), which retrains workers in industries that suffer as a result of the agreements, may have a significant effect on support for free trade agreements. As TAA is a hotly debated issue during trade agreement negotiations in Congress, the polls provide a vital resource to policymakers.
In a 2010 CCGA poll that asked about "agreements to lower trade barriers" and included the option of the government having "programs to help workers who lose their jobs," only 36 percent still opposed free trade agreements. Fifty-seven percent favored them--43% with the condition of trade adjustment assistance and 14% without it.
Key findings from the digest of international opinion are as follows:
General Views of Globalization and International Trade
Response to Economic Downturn
International Regulation of Financial Institutions
Including Labor and Environmental Standards in Trade Agreements
Assessments of Countries' Fairness in Trade
Regional Trade Relations
The World Bank and IMF
The World Trade Organization
Trade and Poverty Reduction
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