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Does America View Its Trade Relationships as Fair?

Does America View Its Trade Relationships as Fair?

Does America View Its Trade Relationships as Fair?

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

Understandably, most people are not experts on the subject of trade.

But while the average person won’t likely be able to guess the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico, perceptions of trade relationships in the public eye are still a crucial indicator.

If the majority of Americans think they are getting the short end of the stick on international trade, this sentiment ultimately affects how politicians campaign, how policy decisions are made, and the success of the wider economy.

U.S. Perceptions of Trade

In today’s chart, we break down the data from a recent Gallup poll on how Americans view the country’s trade relationships.

At a high level, here is how it looks by country:

U.S. Trade PartnerFairUnfairDon't know / No opinion
Canada65%24%10%
European Union56%29%15%
Japan55%33%12%
Mexico44%46%11%
China30%62%9%
Source: Gallup, June 18-24, 2018

The majority of Americans think relationships with Canada (65%), the European Union (56%), and Japan (55%) are fair. When it comes to Mexico, respondents are split (44% fair, 46% unfair).

Meanwhile, it’s clear that most Americans think they are getting the short end of the stick with China, with 62% of respondents describing the relationship as unfair.

The China Problem

China is America’s largest trading partner, so this negative sentiment has meaningful implications.

The balance of trade that the U.S. has with China is also crystal clear: in 2017, the two countries traded $636 billion of goods, but the vast majority of this number comes from Chinese imports into the United States:

Trade gap

Most economists actually think that trade deficits are less important than they appear, but this trade gap is also visceral for many people. After all, U.S. exports barely make a dent in the mix, and this sends a message that America is “losing”.

Between the above trade deficit, intellectual property issues, and jobs going overseas, it’s understandable why the perception of Chinese-U.S. trade is under fire in terms of public sentiment.

And with the start of the recent trade war, the view on China could sour even further.

The Partisan Perspective

Interestingly, Democrats and Republicans have very different views on U.S. relationships, including the one with China:

U.S. Trade PartnerFair (Democrats)Fair (Republicans)
Canada82%49%
European Union70%42%
Japan65%46%
Mexico59%29%
China38%21%
Source: Gallup, June 18-24, 2018

Comparing Republicans and Democrats, three different relationships have opinion gaps of about 30%: Canada, European Union, and Mexico. In all cases, Democrats favored the relationships far more than Republicans.

That said, when it comes to China and Japan, the parties are slightly more aligned.

Only a minority in both parties thought the U.S. trade relationship with China was fair, with 21% of Republicans and 38% of Democrats in agreement.

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