Americans Like Free Trade, Poll Suggests, as NAFTA Talks Near

President Trump, in January, signing executive order to eliminate TPP

Although Donald Trump’s protectionist promises may have appealed to many of the voters that put him in the White House, a new survey indicates he may want to tread carefully around trade ahead of Congressional elections next year.

Commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the poll of 10,021 registered voters indicated that a convincing 70% believed U.S. trade with other countries was likely to strengthen the U.S. economy.

Around two-thirds of respondents also thought offshore trade created American jobs, while a similar proportion said free trade agreements are good for consumers.

The survey was conducted by Morning Consult between May 3 and May 7 and involved approaching voters on both sides of the political divide.

“From the goods and services their companies produce to the products they buy at the grocery store, trade supports good American jobs, enhances consumer choice and drives economic growth.”

Its results may seem at odds with November’s election result, which showed a groundswell of support for Trump from blue-collar regions hurt by unemployment created by offshoring.

A state-by-state breakdown of the survey results shows discrepancies in voter opinions across regions. Somewhat surprisingly, though, a majority of respondents in rust belt states such as Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and West Virginia still supported free trade, albeit with slimmer margins.

“American voters support trade because they see its effects in their lives every day,” Myron Brilliant, the Chamber’s head of international affairs said. “From the goods and services their companies produce to the products they buy at the grocery store, trade supports good American jobs, enhances consumer choice, and drives economic growth.”

To hammer home its point, the Chamber also estimated that 48 million American jobs owe their existence to offshore trade, while providing a detailed breakdown of how each state benefits. In Ohio, for example, it said 253,000 workers are employed by foreign firms, while the state exports more than $65 billion worth of goods each year, mostly to China, Mexico and the UK.

Although one survey does not make a trend, the results come as the administration appears to be softening its stance on trade in the wake of multiple meetings between the president and CEOs.

As recently reported by Chief Executive, the likes of Blackstone’s Steven Schwarzman and Blackrock’s Larry Fink have said the president is becoming increasingly open to taking advice from business leaders on trade policy.

The next big test will come when Trump attempts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Negotiations came a step closer yesterday, when the Senate approved the president’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer. The confirmation means the administration is now free to trigger the 100-day notice period it must submit to Congress before beginning negotiations.

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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