Gütersloh, April 21, 2016. Pressure on the concept of free trade is growing in the export nation of Germany. Only one out of five (17 percent) believes that the planned TTIP transatlantic free trade agreement is a good thing. One in three Germans (33 percent) reject the agreement completely. Only 18 percent of the US population opposes the TTIP. Concerns about the loss of regulatory quality, which citizens on both sides of the Atlantic criticize, are one reason why they reject it. These are the findings that emerged from a representative survey conducted by the international institution YouGov on behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung that polled US and German residents on the topics of free trade and the TTIP. In comparison to a Bertelsmann Stiftung survey from 2014, the number of Germans that agree with free trade in general – not just the TTIP – has declined. Two years ago a significant majority favored free trade in general (88 percent for; 9 percent against). According to the latest poll, this approval has tumbled. Currently only about half of Germans (56 percent) still consider free trade a good idea. More than a quarter (27 percent) reject it entirely. Approval of the TTIP has also suffered in recent years: 55 percent were in favor in 2014 (2016: 17 percent) and 25 percent against (2016: 33 percent). "Support for trade agreements is fading in a country, that views itself as the global export champion," says Aart de Geus, Chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, warning of possible consequences. "Trade is a key driver of the German economy. If it weakens, Germany's economic power as well as its labor market could falter."
The public fears lower standards
Germans' negative attitude toward the TTIP can be explained primarily by their fear of lower standards for products, consumer protection and the labor market as a result of the agreement. Almost half of all Germans (48 percent) are concerned about negative consequences for consumer protection. Only 12 percent believe that the agreement could have a positive impact on consumer protection. 26 percent anticipate positive consequences for economic growth; 27 percent of those surveyed feel they will be negative. Information policy continues to be criticized as well. Although the European Commission is providing more information, Germans do not have the feeling that access to the information and background data on the free trade agreement has improved. 48 percent of those surveyed say that the information status on the agreement has remained the same. 30 percent of Germans do not feel informed enough about the TTIP to answer questions about it.
Aart de Geus sees the survey results as a warning sign: "People fear that the TTIP will lead to a race to the bottom, but free trade agreements also bring opportunities. If standards can be established at the highest quality level, agreements can also develop into role models for good regulation," according to the Chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung.
Public opinion in the USA: Free trade is good; the TTIP is bad
Compared to Germany, public opinion in the USA is more differentiated. Approval of free trade is generally stable and has even increased. However, the actual TTIP agreement has few proponents in the USA, and that number is shrinking. 82 percent of those surveyed in the USA have a positive overall opinion of free trade, representing an increase over figures from 2014 (71 percent). But 18 percent of US residents oppose the TTIP free trade agreement, while only 15 percent support it. Approval of the TTIP was more widespread in 2014. At that time 53 percent of the US public supported it, with 20 percent opposed. This sharp change can also be explained through the high number of US residents who complain about a lack of information. Almost half of the population (46 percent) does not feel sufficiently informed and neither supports nor opposes the agreement.
A somewhat surprising result is the number of people in both countries who have a positive view of trade with each other. 69 percent of US residents consider increased trade with Germany a good thing, with 61 percent in Germany in favor as well. But the TTIP, which should intensify trade between Germany and the USA, does not benefit from these positive opinions.
At the end of February, YouGov conducted a representative population survey in the USA and Germany on behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung. 2,019 people in Germany were polled online, and 1,126 in the USA. The closed-ended questions asked in both countries were largely identical. Additionally, a few country-specific questions were asked. The 2014 survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center on behalf of the Bertelsmann Foundation Washington.