Date of this Version
Yeutter Institute International Trade Policy Review, March 24, 2023
As Canada considers launching free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with Ecuador, the government wants to know what Canadians think. Ottawa makes it easy for citizens to weigh in, inviting Canadians to “join the discussion” and submit their “views, reflections and priorities” on the potential FTA through a Global Affairs Canada web page that is clear, inviting, and user-friendly. Under a section titled, “Who should participate?” the first answer given is “individuals.”
Although the Biden administration has been clear that it will not seek new FTA negotiations, taking a page from Canada’s public consultation playbook may be instructive, at least when it comes to understanding what Americans really think about trade and trade agreements. The conventional wisdom emanating from Washington is that new trade agreements are political nonstarters. Even trade policy observers who believe that the American public should support trade and trade agreements often claim that “the politics are too difficult.” But whose politics are they talking about?
Polling data indicate that public support for trade has a broader, more durable base than one might assume. A 2021 Chicago Council survey, taken six months into the Biden presidency, concluded that administration officials “undervalue U.S. public support for globalization and trade.” The survey found that “a record number of Americans (68%) now say globalization is mostly good for the United States, and three-quarters or more consider international trade to be beneficial to consumers like them, their own standard of living, US tech companies, the US economy, and US agriculture.” Later in 2021, the nonprofit Listening for America released a report based on two years of listening sessions and focus groups with 1,000 Americans nationwide that reached similar conclusions. Listening for America president and lead report author Catherine Novelli, a former U.S. trade negotiator, wrote, “I found that whatever preconceived ideas I had when I visited one of the 37 cities that we went to were not at all what I found when we actually talked with people. Most of the time the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the pundits on these issues, for example, that ‘globalization’ was seen as a bad thing, did not pan out in our conversations.”