Home | About Americans & the World | Search | Join Our ListServ | Contact Us

Global Issues >> International Trade

International Trade

Trading With Poor Countries

Most Americans support giving poor countries preferential trade treatment. A strong majority supports lowering trade barriers with poor countries on a reciprocal basis.

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. [1]

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. [2]

This attitude is confirmed by a recent question by GMF: “There is a lot of talk about what is better for developing countries: helping them through aid or helping them by making it easier to trade their products on the global market. Which of these two do you think is most effective?” Only 16% thought aid was most effective. In the same poll, a very large 87% agreed with the general proposition that “Freer trade gives developing countries a better chance to grow their economies and lift themselves out of poverty.” However, respondents were divided on a different proposition: “Freer trade threatens developing countries whose economies are too fragile to compete in the global economy” (45% agree, 43% disagree). Many respondents must have seen truth in both statements—consistent with the support, noted above, for preferential trade treatment for the poorest countries. [2a]

Support for giving preferential trade treatment to poor countries may be influenced by a strong majority perception that poor countries are not being treated fairly in trade negotiations. See “Concerns About Effect of Trade on Poor Countries,” in Reservations About the Effects of Trade in Practice.

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 other PIPA polls taken between 1998 and 2004 that asked the same question about countries with lower wages. In these cases only about 50% said they were willing to do the same with low-wage countries. [3] 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.

Trade With Africa

Consistent with this view, there is public support for opening up trade with African countries. A solid majority supports free trade with African countries, both in principle and specifically as outlined in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). In January 2003 PIPA asked “As a general rule, if countries in Africa say they will lower their 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 solid 57% majority said the US should do so; about a third (32%) felt the US should not.

Another sample heard a description of the AGOA legislation, which Congress passed in 2000 and expanded in 2002, as a bill that “eliminated import restrictions on nearly all goods produced in African countries that agreed to embrace market-oriented economic policies and move to open up their markets to US trade and investment.” Support was just slightly higher than the level of support for free trade in principle: 60% said they favored the measure, with 27% opposed.

A more modest majority also supported the idea of the US increasing import quotas for African goods at the expense of quotas assigned to more developed trade partners. Respondents were asked the following question:

As part of its trade policy, the US limits the import of certain goods, such as apparel, by establishing quotas that give other countries the right to sell only a certain amount of a product in the US. In many cases these quotas limit imports from poor countries more than they limit imports from wealthier countries. Some people say that we should increase quotas for poor countries, such as those in Africa, because this would help their economies and may even reduce their need for US and international aid. Others argue that this is not a good idea because it would lead to more competition from low-wage workers, and that reducing quotas for wealthier countries could be politically sensitive. Do you favor or oppose the idea of increasing import quotas for poor countries in Africa?

In this case, a slimmer majority (52%) favored increasing import quotas from African countries at the expense of wealthier countries, while 37% opposed the idea. It is possible that the mention of the potential costs – especially of competition from low-wage workers – diminished support for this idea. Still, in every question posed, majorities supported increased trade with Africa, even though a strong plurality said that African countries primarily would benefit. Asked about the “overall impact of a closer
trade relationship between the United States and African countries,” 44% felt it would only or mostly benefit African countries. Just 13% felt it would only or mostly benefit the US. Another 28% felt all countries would benefit equally, while 7% felt no country would benefit.

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. [4]




Report Contents