Public support trade deals but are increasingly sceptical about their benefits

Tue 11 Aug 2020
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

uk leaves eu

The general public is largely supportive of the UK signing new trade agreements but is not convinced the deals will increase jobs and wages, a trade attitudes tracker from the government has found.

Two thirds of the public say they support free trade agreements, with over a half saying they will have a positive effect on their daily lives.

However, the government has seen a downward shift in the number of people who think trade deals will have a positive impact on jobs, wages and the quality of imported goods.

The ‘Public attitudes to trade tracker’ survey from the Department for International Trade was conducted in two ‘waves’ – one at the end of 2018 and one in the summer of 2019.


The survey saw no real change in the public’s general attitude towards trade deals, with 63% saying freer trade will have a positive effect in 2019 compared to 62% in 2018.

Over a half of people (54%) also said the deals will have a positive impact on their daily lives in both iterations of the survey.

Views on trade partners

The poll also asked the public about their support for establishing agreements with Australia, New Zealand, the US, China and India.

A majority were in favour of closer ties with each of these countries on both polls, apart from China which was backed by 46% of second wave respondents.

Support for all the countries declined by five to seven percentage points each between the first and second polls.

Pacific pact

Only 22% in the most recent survey said they knew what the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) was.

CPTPP is the 11-nation pact of Pacific nations which the UK has said it is looking to join.

Jobs, wages and standards

The tracker has spotted a downward trend in the public’s attitudes regarding the more specific effects of free trade agreements – jobs, wages and goods and services.

The surveys found the following:

  • In the most recent poll, 42% believe increased free trade will lead to a higher number of jobs – down from a half of respondents in the first
  • A quarter said increased free trade will lead to higher wages, down from a third
  • Almost two fifths (17%) thought more free trade would lead to lower quality goods and services, up from 12%

Trade awareness

Both waves of the tracker also highlighted that only a third of the public feel knowledgeable about how the UK trades with countries outside of the EU.

Slightly more (42%) said they felt comfortable about how the UK trades with countries in the EU.


DIT took a “mixed mode approach” to both surveys, utilising post and online face-to-face interviews.

Over two thousand interviews were conducted in each of the two waves, with all parts of the UK represented.

The first wave of interviews was conducted between 1 October 2018 and 1 January 2019, with wave two occurring between 10 June 2019 and 13 August 2019.