DIT report finds UK public supports post-Brexit deals but is divided on human rights link to trade

Wed 9 Nov 2022
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Department for International Trade - Attitudes toward trade survey

The Department for International Trade’s (DIT) fifth edition of its study examining public attitudes towards trade has revealed changing sentiments due to deteriorating economic conditions.

The research, which started in 2018, looks at national attitudes to trade and the UK’s trade priorities.

Around a third (35%) of the respondents expect the UK economy to get worse, with 26% expecting it to perform better than at present.

Trade deal shift

Support for free trade agreements (FTAs) has fallen slightly compared with the previous wave of research in March and May last year, but the majority of respondents (65%) said they supported securing deals with countries outside the EU.

Lower proportions are positive about the overall impact of non-EU trade on the UK overall, with positive views around the impact of the UK signing FTAs with countries outside the EU falling by 3% in the latest survey.

Human rights

Public opinion is divided over the importance of human rights when making decisions around trade.

A third (36%) of UK adults think the UK should only have trading relationships with like-minded countries. This compares to 22% who take the opposite view, and a further 31% sit somewhere in the middle.

Supporting trade deals

Support for new deals with most countries has remained stable but support for enhancing existing free trade deals has generally declined.

FTAs with New Zealand and the US still enjoy wide support, with 62% and 57% of respondents expressing approval.

Other deals, such as India (40%), the UAE (29%), and Saudi Arabia (26%), are experiencing opinion remaining in line with previous research.

China (down to 30%) and Brazil (down to 31%) have seen small declines in support while support for a deal with India has stabilised at 40%. Support for enhancing the existing trade deals with Canada, Singapore and Vietnam has also declined. 

Multilateral agreements

Awareness of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) has dipped compared with the last publication of the research, and among those who have heard a little about the CPTTP, the support for the UK joining it has slightly declined from 63% to 57%.

Knowledge of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and support for the UK entering into formal trade talks with the GCC are also low. Most (63%) haven’t heard about the GCC and 15% have heard the name but know nothing about it.

Trade impact

There is a mixed picture on views about the impact of trade, with a rise in the proportion believing that free trade will lead to higher wages (31%). Views around the impact on jobs remain stable, with 49% thinking an increase in free trade would lead to more jobs in the UK.

One in five (22%) of respondents said that free trade could affect the quality of goods or services and reduce safety and food standards, including animal welfare.

Trading partner considerations

The report found that the public’s view on what the government’s trade policy priorities should be change depending on the country in question.

Research found that maintaining food standards is the highest priority when negotiating free trade deals with US, India and Mexico.

Although food standards are an important consideration, protecting human rights and equality is the highest priority consideration for trading with UAE and Saudi Arabia.