trade poll

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Wed Nov 17 09:44:33 PST 1999

Public Support for Freer Trade Conditional: Majority Wants More Aid for Workers, Global Standards for Labor and Environment

For Immediate Release, Nov. 16, 1999 Contact: Nicci Millington, (202) 232-7500 Executive Summary and the raw data are available at

U.S. public support for freer trade is conditional, according to a study released today by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). While a majority of Americans supports in principle the growth of international trade, this support is weakened by concerns that U.S. trade policymakers are not adequately addressing the needs of the environment and workers, here and abroad. Support for freer trade only extends to a strong majority under the condition that the government makes greater efforts to help workers adapt to the changes of globalization. Furthermore, overwhelming majorities want to see trade agreements include global standards on working conditions and the environment -- contrary to WTO rules.

These findings have implications for the impending encounter between the WTO, which is convening in Seattle Nov. 30, and anticipated demonstrators, who will be denouncing international trade. "The majority of Americans rejects the WTO view that the train of international trade should move forward quickly, unburdened by concerns for labor and the environment," said Steven Kull, the study's principal investigator. According to Kull, most Americans also reject the views of those who want to stop the train. "Most Americans want the train of international trade to move forward, but they also want concerns for American workers, sweatshops overseas and the global environment to have a place on the train -- even if this slows it down."

Based on a nationwide poll of 1,826 American adults and focus groups around the country, the study explored Americans' attitudes about the broader process of globalization. PIPA, of the University of Maryland, is an organization of social science researchers dedicated to the study of American public attitudes on international issues.

"In many ways, Americans' values have become oriented to a global context and are not limited to a narrow concept of national interest," said Kull, PIPA's Director. Strong majorities feel that increasing economic involvement with other parts of the world creates new obligations. For example, overwhelming majorities said U.S. companies, when operating abroad, should be expected to abide by U.S. laws on the environment and on working conditions, even though the poll respondents recognized this would likely lead to higher prices. Kull said, "Americans support a kind of international golden rule that says 'Do unto others as you do unto yourself.'"


PIPA's poll of 1,826 Americans was conducted Oct. 21-29, 1999. Most findings have a margin of error of +/- 3-4%. Key findings of the study were:

· 61% said the U.S. government should actively promote globalization or allow it to continue. · 64% said, "In general, if another country is willing to lower its barriers to products from the U.S. if we will lower our barriers to their products," then the U.S. should agree to do so. · Asked about "U.S. government officials who are making decisions about U.S. international trade policy," strong majorities said U.S. trade policymakers give too little consideration to working Americans (72%), the general public (68%) and the environment (60%). However, only small minorities felt policymakers give too little attention to multinational corporations (15%) or American business (34%). · 65% agreed, "When the World Trade Organization makes decisions, it tends to think about what's best for business, but not about what's best for the world as a whole." · 56% said they thought that "the growth of international trade has increased the gap between rich and poor." · 78% said that the WTO should consider labor standards and the environment in trade decisions. · 93% said that "countries that are part of international trade agreements should be required to maintain minimum standards for working conditions." · 33% found convincing, "It should be up to each country how to deal with its environment. There should not be international bodies that tell countries what to do." · 77% said there should be more international agreements on environmental standards · 87% agreed with the statement, "I would favor more free trade, if I was confident that we were making major efforts to educate and retrain Americans to be competitive in the global economy." · 73% agreed with the statement, "I regard myself as a citizen of the world as well as a citizen of the United States." · 74% agreed that "if people in other countries are making products that we use, this creates a moral obligation for us to make efforts to ensure that they do not have to work in harsh or unsafe conditions" while 23% agreed that "it is not for us to judge what the working conditions should be in another country." · 76% said they would pay 25% more for a garment that was certified as not made in a sweatshop. · 88% said that "American companies that operate in other countries should be expected to abide by U.S. environmental standards," while 86% felt that way about U.S. health and safety standards.

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