Asia more open to free markets, trade

Asia more open to free markets, trade

New Delhi: Support for free global trade, free markets and foreign companies is rising in Asian economic powers such as India and China, even as it is waning in the West, says the 2007 Global Attitudes Project by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre (PRC).

The global survey of about 45,000 people in 47 nations including India—findings of which were released on 4 October—finds Americans and West Europeans less supportive of international trade and multinational companies (MNCs) now than five years ago. Those surveyed also appeared keen on restricting and controlling immigration policies, and worried about government control over daily lives increasing.

Of the 2,026 people surveyed in the US, only 59% think growing trade ties between countries are good, compared with 91% of the 3,142 Chinese surveyed and 89% of the 2,043 Indians. Almost 80% of the Indians who participated in the survey are from urban areas.

In the poorest regions of Africa, where 8,471 people were surveyed, close to 90% believed trade is having a positive impact. Some 73% Indians had no problem with MNCs operating in India, and a higher number, 75%, wanted markets to be free. Three out of four Chinese believe people are better off in free markets, even if that means rising social inequalities.

Ajay Shah, professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, and economic consultant, says “this shows that poor countries have even more liberal values when compared with rich countries."

His independent calculations from the survey results, on an “index of liberal worldview", places India ninth and China 11th, with the UK occupying the 29th slot and the US 45th.

He reasons “both countries (China and India) have seen socialism first hand and, thus, support for liberal economics is strong", but at the same time cautions, “this may not be how the voters think."

Interestingly, support for free markets and trade have been going up in poorer countries, matching the decline in the developed West. Support for foreign companies in India went up from 61% in 2002, the year of the first survey, to 73% in 2007, and for free markets from 62% in 2002 to 76% in 2007.

In the US, these numbers went down from 50% to 45% for foreign companies and 72% to 70% for free markets. Even in China, which has seen several foreign companies operating for the past 30 years, support for them has gone down from 76% of the people to 64%.

Surprisingly, despite India being prominent in the list of high-remittance economies, only 6% of Indians said they received money from their relatives abroad, compared with 27% Pakistanis and 47% of Lebanese, who topped the list.

What should worry governments is that respondents in all the countries, including India and the US, have started believing that government has too much control.

In India, the proportion of such people has risen from 52% in 2002 to 71% in 2007, and in Germany from 61% to 74%. In Pakistan, even in 2002, about 78% of the people surveyed felt the government had too much control. That number has now gone up to 81%, while in China, 39% of the people “said" the government was too much in their lives.

Among the few areas with a seeming convergence of views, more than 90% of the people in most countries feel the state should take care of the very poor, and that the environment needs to be protected, even if it slows growth and costs jobs.

More importantly, rising foreign influence from across porous borders are making people nostalgic. “Not only do most people believe they are losing their way of life, they also want to take steps to protect it from foreign intrusion," says the survey.

The Pew Global Attitudes Project is co-chaired by former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright. The centre describes itself as a non-partisan “fact tank" that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world and are funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.