Public opinion data suggests that people on both sides of the Atlantic are committed to free trade in principle, but advocate protection from international competition in practise. This working paper, produced for the Transatlantic Task Force on Trade, goes beyond this generalisation, in an attempt to demystify the complexities and contradictions of the public opinion in the US and the EU.
Intense international competition fuelled by growing trade, especially after the entrance of China into the world economy, has generated scepticism and sometimes fears among people with respect to unemployment, outsourcing and unfair competition. Both Americans and Europeans accept the benefits of trade openness for the economy as a whole, but are doubtful as to whether the benefits of international commerce accrue to them as individuals. Consumer benefits are recognised, but not believed to outweigh the negative impact on jobs.
Against this background, support for trade agreements has steadily eroded. However, there is a solid public support on both sides of the Atlantic for deeper commercial ties between Europe and the US, including the removal of barriers to trade and investment.
The perceptions among the public opinion of China’s entrance into the world economy are somewhat mixed about whether this should be seen as a threat or as an economic opportunity. Akin to other questions, there are demographic and partisan divides, as well as divergences in opinions between the European countries.
As for policy makers, they should neither be the servants nor the masters of public opinion. Instead, it is up to policy makers to device trade policies compatible with the public sentiments.