Globalization Is in decline

A worldwide rise in protectionist sentiment is grim news for those who would rescue the Doha trade negotiations.



Doug Miller, guest editorial, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In the midst of the current diplomatic efforts at the World Trade Organization to successfully conclude the Doha Round of negotiations (an attempt to increase the participation of developing countries in the world economy) an analysis of the latest global polling data suggests all the king's horses and all the king's men will never put Doha together again.

On the face of it, public-opinion research conducted by a range of organizations suggests that globalization is well supported across both industrialized and developing countries.

Last month, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org released an 18-country poll showing that majorities around the world believe economic globalization and international trade benefit national economies, companies and consumers. Importantly though, they also found that many people think trade harms the environment and threatens jobs -- as have other studies over the years.

The picture gets bleaker the closer one looks at international tracking research conducted over a number of years, including the latest results of a question first conducted for the World Economic Forum in 2002.

This analysis suggests protectionist sentiments have risen to shut-out levels in a number of key countries, in spite of theoretical support for globalization. This appears to have been driven by long-held public perceptions that globalization threatens employment in their countries.

GlobeScan's tracking research shows that support for using tariffs and other trade barriers to protect national companies and jobs has grown by statistically significant amounts in six of 13 tracking countries between 2002 and 2006, with average 13-nation support for protectionism growing from 68 to 76 per cent.

Over the same period, support for globalization has fallen from 62 per cent to 54 per cent across the same 13 countries.

Some of the biggest surges in protectionist sentiment have occurred in G7 countries, including Germany, Italy and Canada, as well as other strategic countries like South Korea and Turkey.

Trends in Brazil, Russia, India, and China make grim reading for those working to achieve a new global trade agreement. Updating results presented at "Davos in New York" in 2002, a recent GlobeScan poll revealed a sharp drop among urban Chinese and Brazilians in the view that globalization is in the interest of them and their families, with lesser but significant declines in India and Russia over the same period (2002 to 2006).

To underscore the political impact of such findings, a decline of only 11 points in American public support for economic globalization over the same period was enough to pave the way for the election of the new batch of anti-free-trade legislators in the recent mid-term elections there.

This worldwide growth of protectionism is not limited to those who the French call "Altermondialistes", the anti-globalist segment (19 per cent) of the population that exists in all countries studied (but largest in Turkey and France) who are likely to subscribe to the World Social Forum's motto, "Another world is possible."

In fact, one of the most fascinating findings is the emergence of what might be called the "protect-me globalist." Members of this even larger segment of the population (28 per cent) express both theoretical support for globalization and strong support for measures to protect their jobs and national champion companies.

While the views of this new segment could be seen as inconsistent, our colleagues at WorldPublicOpinion.org, in their recent Chicago Council release, showed it is not necessarily inconsistent for the same individuals to support both globalization and increased protectionism. They found strong majority support for including minimum labour and environmental standards as part of trade agreements -- "protectionist" measures that can in part mitigate public concerns for the way globalization is implemented. Their previous polling of Americans has also shown that retraining programs for displaced workers is key to achieving majority support for free-trade agreements among Democrats.

India's demanding stance in current negotiations on the Doha Trade Round can in part be explained by the fact that India has the largest percentage (49 per cent) of "protect-me globalists" among the 19 countries covered in GlobeScan's segmentation analysis, with Indonesia and Nigeria following closely.

With increasingly authoritative studies by economists suggesting that average workers in a number of key economies have seen their share of economic benefits from globalization diminish over the last decade -- in part due to unequal distribution of economic benefits, as well as the impact of technology -- it is likely the "protect-me globalists" will increasingly influence the international trade agenda, with even bilateral trade agreements soon affected.

Given this analysis, achieving fairer trade, rather than freer trade, will no doubt become the central point of debate and negotiation. Fully seven in 10 citizens of wealthy countries do not think their governments are negotiating fairly with less developed countries in current trade talks. Nor do they think economic globalization currently delivers fairness to workers or the environment.

Those wishing to further economic globalization would be well advised not to spend their limited political capital on negotiating a watered-down Doha trade agreement that will only be seen as contributing to inequities. Rather, they should act quickly to put in place corrective governance systems at the national and international levels aimed at mitigating widely recognized problems that undermine political support.

Only this will convince an increasingly skeptical public that the economic power being unleashed through globalization will deliver real benefits to them and the planet. Only this will put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Doug Miller is president of GlobeScan Inc., the global public opinion and stakeholder research consultancy with offices in London, Toronto and Washington. An expanded version of this article will appear in his forthcoming book, 'The Other Superpower: How global public opinion is changing almost everything.'

GlobeScan Incorporated
is a global public opinion and stakeholder research firm with offices in Toronto, London, and Washington. GlobeScan conducts custom research and annual tracking studies on global issues. With a research network spanning 50+ countries, GlobeScan works with global companies, multilateral agencies, national governments, and non-government organizations to deliver research-based insights for successful strategies.

© The Ottawa Citizen, 2007