Although in the most academic circles it is usually highlighted that Chile has the most robust network of free trade agreements in the world -with access to more than 80% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)-, the public does not seem to be aware of what this framework gives him, in practice.
This was revealed by a recent survey by the consulting firm AthenaLab, which showed that only 21% of the general population declared themselves “strongly in agreement” that Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) had directly benefited them, to which is added a 35% who say they “agree” with the statement.
The numbers show a contrast with what specialists perceive: 82% “strongly agree” with having received direct benefits from the FTAs, and an additional 15% support the idea.
The study warns that, despite the fact that Chile’s network of trade agreements “was an asset to access a large number of vaccines when facing the Covid-19 pandemic, it is worrying to note that at the general public level There is no majority opinion on the benefits that Chile’s successful insertion into the world economy has brought”.
In the opinion of Juan Pablo Toro, executive director of AthenaLab, the results suggest that it is necessary to do “more pedagogical work”, focused on the fact that the percentage of the population that recognizes the benefits that free trade has meant “should be much higher ”.
The effort of the previous administration to “put numbers” on the benefits of the FTAs stands out, translated into the creation of jobs, the development of new productive sectors, or how much different products have become cheaper as a result of free trade.
Along the same lines, the document affirms that “for countries the size of Chile (FTAs) they are a tool that allows them to transcend the size of their economy and reduce distances with large production centers.”
The survey also addressed the idea of regulating foreign investment in strategic sectors, a point on which there was a strong consensus in support of the measure both among experts and the general population. In the first group, 96% were favorable, and in the second, 89%.
“The issue has an impact through concrete facts,” says the report, which recalls that last year the government canceled the award for the manufacture of passports to the Chinese company Aisino.
This “contrasts with the absence of legislation on the matter that persists and the fact that until now the issue has not been mentioned by the new administration of President Gabriel Boric,” says the analysis.
To the above, Toro adds that most of the countries have legislation that delimits the issue in the truly strategic sectors, so as not to have to “decide on a case-by-case basis”, as happened a few months ago.
USA vs New Zealand
The poll asked about which country could serve as a model for Chile, with strong differences between groups. For the general population, the US appears as the alternative, followed by Canada and then Sweden. For experts, the picture is different: the bulk prefers New Zealand, then Australia and then Canada.
Toro details that most of the model countries for the general public have “social policies or state coverage of the social welfare type that are broader than those that Chile has.” He adds that most are European and that there are no Latin Americans in the sample.
On the experts’ side, he affirms that the two leading countries are consolidated at the top, but highlights that Canada appears as “a place that is being looked at with more interest” for both groups.