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Trade With Africa

A solid majority supports lowering trade barriers with African countries, both in principle and as outlined in the African Growth and Opportunity Act. It appears that a majority would favor giving Africa preferential trade treatment. A solid majority believes African nations will never become a significant economic competitor to the United States.

A solid majority of Americans supports expanding trade with Africa, in principle. When asked in a January 2003 PIPA-Knowledge Networks poll, "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 strong 57% majority said the US should do so. Thirty-two percent said the US should not. This is similar to a result from August 1998, when a Market Strategies poll found that nearly two-thirds (64%) favored "negotiating free trade agreements with African nations." Just 22% opposed the idea. [1]

The January 2003 PIPA-KN poll also asked specifically about AGOA, which Congress passed in 2000 and updated in 2002. In the poll, AGOA was described as legislation 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." Sixty percent favored the legislation and just 27% were opposed. [1a]

Prior to AGOA's passage, a July 1998 poll by Penn, Schoen and Berland found similar support on a generic question about a possible trade agreement with Africa. By a two-to-one margin (56% to 28%), a majority said the US should "pass Africa trade legislation that would open up our trade with that continent." [2]

It also appears that a majority would favor giving Africa preferential trade treatment. In the January 2003 PIPA-KN survey, respondents were asked about shifting quotas from more advanced countries to African countries:

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?

A slim majority of 52% favored increasing import quotas for African countries, while 37% were opposed. It is likely that the concerns raised about increased competition from low-wage workers led to lower support than was indicated on the more general questions. Poll questions that have asked about providing preferential trade treatment to poor countries have generally found quite strong support (see International Trade, Trading with Poor Countries). [2a]

Support for expanding trade with Africa is strong even though a plurality believes that Africa will benefit more than the US. In the January 2003 PIPA-KN poll, just 13% felt that "a closer trade relationship between the United States and African countries" would only benefit, or mostly benefit, the US. By contrast, 44% said closer trade ties would only benefit or mostly benefit Africa. Twenty-eight percent thought both sides would benefit equally. These results are basically the same as when Epic-MRA first ran this question in May 1998. At that time, 10% said closer trade ties would primarily benefit the US, 40% felt Africa would be the primary beneficiary, and 39% thought both sides would benefit equally. [3]

When asked in a May 2005 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll whether African nations are or will in the future be "a serious economic competitor to the United States," more than two-thirds (68%) said African nations "will never be an economic competitor." A fifth (20%) said African countries will be an economic competitor in the future, while only 3% said they are currently an economic competitor. [4]



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Recent Data Updates
Africa - August 2008 (PDF)