Trade better than aid for poor countries, survey respondents say
A majority of the public in four industrialized nations believes that international trade contributes to economic growth in developing countries and the world in general and increases the number of jobs for people in developing countries, a survey by a Washington-based research institute indicates.
Results of a May 2004 survey of people in the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany also show that respondents support specific forms of trade protection—such as for farmers, especially those that “protect the countryside”—but are “lukewarm” about nonspecific trade barriers, said John Audley of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Two-thirds of the survey respondents said that while they support trade, it should not come at the expense of jobs or the environment, co-author of the report Audley said. Additionally, 80% said governments should negotiate future trade agreements in a more transparent and accountable manner, he said.
An overwhelming majority of respondents ’ 79%—supports aid to developing countries but says trade is more effective than aid in helping to boost these countries’ economies, Audley said.
Respondents’ most-cited reason for fighting global poverty was that “everyone should have a chance to work and earn a living for themselves and their families,” the author said. They attached less importance to opening poor countries’ markets to products from wealthier nations and to eliminating terrorist breeding grounds, according to Audley.
People in all four countries believe that international trade agreements increase product choice and help make their own economies more innovative and competitive, according to the report. However, they perceive specific agreements—notably the US-Canada-Mexico North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and to a lesser extent the European Union Internal Market—as causing problems for domestic workers, he said.
Another majority of respondents ’ 56%—believes multinational companies benefit most from lowering barriers in international trade, Audley said. An even larger group ’ 76%—professes a more favorable opinion of small business than of multinationals, the report said.
The fund recommends that policy-makers redefine international trade as a “project of the people and small business, not of multinationals,” Audley said.
Further, he said, the public wants trade agreements that feature a more gradual integration of developing countries into the global market. Three-fourths of respondents also believe that rules protecting intellectual property rights should be adjusted to give developing countries better access to life-saving medicines.
Finally, respondents said policy-makers should be “honest” about the true costs and benefits of trade. “While some rhetoric is often necessary to motivate action, policy-makers should always keep in mind the high cost of overstating the benefits and understating the costs of new trade deals,” the report said.
The German Marshall Fund promotes cooperation and understanding between the United States and Europe. The organization also has offices in Belgrade, Berlin, Bratislava, Brussels and Paris. (Office of State Department Public Communication Division)