The report pitches the deal as a gift to small businesses.
It was financed by FedEx, the 64th largest corporation in the United States.
Why did the Atlantic Council need to call on big business to try to persuade us that TAFTA would be good for small businesses?
The report itself provides the answer: “Those [small and medium enterprises, or SMEs] that have heard of the negotiations tend to believe that TTIP is designed principally to help large companies…”
That is, small businesses do not see TAFTA as a deal that is intended to further their interests, but those of their outsized competitors.
That view makes sense, given small firms’ experience under past free trade agreements (FTAs), including the deal implemented in 2012 with Korea. The Atlantic Council’s report claims, without citing a source, that SMEs have seen exports grow under the Korea FTA.
Not according to the U.S. government. U.S. Census Bureau data reveal that both small and large U.S. firms saw their exports to Korea fall in the year the FTA was implemented (the latest year of data availability), compared to the year before implementation.
In fact, small firms have endured the steepest downfall of exports to Korea under the FTA. U.S. firms with fewer than 100 employees saw exports to Korea drop 12 percent while firms with more than 500 employees saw exports only decline by 1 percent. As a result, under the Korea FTA, small businesses are capturing an even smaller share of the value of U.S. exports to Korea (just 16 percent), while big businesses are capturing a larger share.
Perhaps anticipating small firms’ “tendency to believe” that another FTA would disadvantage them relative to their large competitors, the Atlantic Council decided to forego a broad-based, statistically-relevant survey of small firms’ views on TAFTA. Instead, the think tank “interviewed several representatives” of a few hand-picked firms.
But even this small, anecdotal exercise did not report the small businesses’ aggregate answers to fundamental questions, such as “Have you heard of TAFTA?” or “Based on what you know about TAFTA, are you in favor of such an agreement?”
Those aren’t hypothetical questions. Indeed, they were part of the Atlantic Council’s survey, which can be found online.
Why didn’t the Atlantic Council report the aggregate responses to its own survey questions? Maybe because the results were not what the think tank sought. A call to the Atlantic Council indicated that small firms who received the survey were largely unresponsive to questions about how TTIP would benefit them.
The lack of interest from small businesses comes despite the Atlantic Council’s efforts to sell the deal in the text of the survey. Abandoning any pretense of impartiality, the survey informed businesses that TAFTA was “an ambitious effort to create sustainable economic growth and job creation in the United States and European Union” before asking if they supported the deal.
Small firms’ non-responsiveness begs the obvious question: shouldn’t the fact that small businesses are not interested in cheerleading another FTA be cause for concern about the FTA? When an invitation to name the benefits of a prospective deal is met with silence, it should probably prompt one to question the deal’s merits.
It probably should not prompt one to ask FedEx to sponsor a report intent on explaining to small businesses what’s best for them.