Skepticism of TTIP Growing in the US, Germany

New survey examines attitudes toward free trade and TTIP on both sides of the Atlantic

GÜTERSLOH/WASHINGTON (April 21, 2016) – As U.S. and European negotiators prepare to hash out details in the next round of talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in New York, they must contend with shifting public opinion.

While the European majority welcomes TTIP, Germans have become more skeptical of the agreement, according to a new Bertelsmann Stiftung survey.

An increasingly antagonistic German public disapproves of a trans-Atlantic trade pact to a greater extent than it did just two years ago. Less than one in five (17 percent) Germans surveyed consider TTIP to be a good thing, while two years ago more than half (55 percent) of Germans were in favor of the agreement.

In addition to diminishing support for TTIP, backing for increased trade is also on the decline in Germany. Although a majority (56 percent) of Germans is generally open to trade, that figure is a sharp decrease from just two years ago (88 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.”

Trade is a key driver of the German economy. If it weakens, Germany’s economic power as well as its labor market could falter.

Meanwhile, negative attitudes toward trade in the United States have fallen since 2014—from 23 percent to 13 percent. However, respondents in both the United States and Germany have become more concerned about the impact of increased trade and favor greater protection of their own economy from foreign competition (Figure 9).

Interestingly, the poll revealed that in both the United States and Germany respondents with a higher level of education viewed trade more favorably.

Concern over standards exists in the United States and Germany alike, but to a much greater extent in Germany—nearly half of German respondents believe TTIP will negatively affect consumer protection and environmental standards (48 percent and 46 percent, respectively). These results suggest that increasing disapproval of TTIP is mostly connected with fears that standards may be watered down. In the United States, there was a remarkable level of uncertainty about the potential impact of TTIP.

On a related note, a high proportion of U.S. and German respondents did not feel they are sufficiently well informed—nearly one half (46 percent) of Americans and 30 percent of Germans—although many reported having great interest in the issue.

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.”

On behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, YouGov conducted a statistically representative online survey in February 2016 of 1,126 respondents in the United States and 2,019 in Germany. The closed-ended questions asked in both countries were largely identical, except for a few country-specific questions. 2014 figures come from a Pew Research Center survey that was conducted on behalf of the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington.