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Trading With Poor Countries

Most Americans perceive that poor countries do not get a net benefit from international trade, and support giving poor countries preferential trade treatment. A strong majority supports lowering trade barriers with poor countries on a reciprocal basis.

Americans perceive that poor countries are not getting a net benefit from international trade. Asked in the October 1999 PIPA poll to evaluate international trade for "people in poor countries" on a scale of 0-10, the mean response was 4.74--meaning that on average, the negatives of international trade were viewed as outweighing the benefits for poor countries. Only 32% of respondents said they thought that trade was more positive than negative for the poor. [1]

Americans show high levels of support for various ideas for extending the benefits of globalization to poor countries. An idea currently under discussion at the WTO for giving poor countries preferential trade treatment received strong support in the PIPA survey, even when it was suggested it might threaten some American jobs. [2]

Another idea explored in the October 1999 PIPA poll was to transfer trade quotas from wealthier countries to poor countries. Respondents were introduced to the debate on the issue as follows:

Some people say that we should give more of these quotas to poor countries, especially those that presently receive US foreign aid, because this would help their economies and may even help some foreign aid recipients get to the point that they will not need aid. Others argue that this is not a good idea because we may have to take quotas away from the wealthier countries that presently have them, and this could be politically sensitive.

Seventy-two percent said they favored the idea while 21% were opposed. A January 1995 PIPA poll posed the same question and found 69% support. [3]

Americans also show a readiness to lower trade barriers with poor countries on a reciprocal basis. A 1998 PIPA poll asked, "As a general rule, if a country that is poorer than the US says it will lower its barriers to products from the US if we will lower our barriers to their products, should the US agree or not agree to do this?" A strong 64% said they would be willing to lower trade barriers with poor countries on a reciprocal basis. This is in contrast to the October 1999 PIPA poll that asked the same question about "low-wage countries." In this case only 50% said they were willing to do the same with low-wage countries. [4] Of course poor countries are also generally low-wage, but apparently, when countries are clearly defined as poor this offsets some of the concerns about wage competition.

Consistent with this view, there is public support for opening up trade with African countries. According to a May 1998 Epic-MRA poll, 56% agreed that the US should pass legislation to open up trade with the African continent, while just 28% opposed it. Interestingly, this was true even though 40% thought such a deal would mostly benefit Africa and just 10% of the public thought a trade deal with Africa would mostly benefit the US. [5]

It seems that Americans think that a failure to allow trade with poorer countries may increase the demand for foreign aid. Before the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a September 1993 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 54% thought it likely that, if NAFTA was not passed, "we would have to give more foreign aid and loans to Mexico in order to support their economy," while only 38% disagreed. [6]



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