- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Americans strongly support international trade but are much more skeptical than residents of most other countries about its economic benefits, according to a major new survey released this week.

While 81 percent of more than 48,000 people in nearly four dozen countries surveyed said they thought trade could boost employment and wages, only 68 percent of those surveyed in the U.S. believe that to be true, according to the poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Americans were especially pessimistic about trade’s impact on wages and jobs. In emerging markets, 52 percent of those surveyed said global business ties create jobs, and 45 percent believe that it improves wages. However, only 20 percent of Americans surveyed said they believe trade creates jobs, and just 17 percent believe it leads to bigger paychecks.

“Economics 101 tells us that one of the principal reasons that countries should trade is because it will mean lower prices for their consumers,” said Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes for Pew, in a presentation about the study’s findings. “Only 35 percent of people in advanced economies believe that [to be true]. Frankly, I can’t explain that.”

Uganda had the highest percentage of people who said trading led to an increase in wages as 79 percent of those surveyed found that to be true. Support was lowest in Italy, where just 7 percent believed trade was linked to higher pay.

The survey comes at a time when the Obama administration is trying to make progress on two far-reaching trade deals with the European Union and a collection of major Pacific Rim economies. The Pew survey polled seven of the 12 nations discussing the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, and in each nation the majority of those surveyed said trade is good for their country.

In 2002 78 percent of Americans believed that growing trade and business ties with other countries was good. In 2008, that number plummeted to 53 percent. Six years after the global financial crisis and the beginning of the Great Recession, however, that number is climbing as the report showed that 68 percent of Americans now say trade can be beneficial.

“I don’t think U.S. attitudes are as negative as characterized” by the Pew headline findings, Susan C. Schwab, a former U.S. trade representative and a strategic adviser at Mayer Brown, said.

Ms. Schwab said the approval ratings for trade in the U.S. may have taken a dip in 2008 because Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were debating about “how utterly awful trade was for the United States” during their Democratic primary battle.

Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff of the AFL-CIO, which has been deeply skeptical of past trade deals, said she was not surprised by the relative skepticism about trade’s benefits found in the U.S. results “if you take the results in the context of the U.S. economy and labor market today.”

“You have longtime wage stagnation and growing inequality, Ms. Lee said. “You have relatively high employment for the fact that we are five years beyond the recovery from the Great Recession.”

The report was based on interviews with 48,643 people in 44 countries, and it is thought to be the most extensive survey to examine public opinion on the subject ever conducted.

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