How to talk to the new Congress about trade

That’s the subject of an interesting new report out of the Conference Board of Canada which looks at how the election results will shape trade policy in the U.S. Usually when Republicans take over, it’s a boost for free trade. Not this time.

The report sets the stage by noting that:

[The] so-called Tea Party Republicans, who make up the vast majority of the 112th Congress’ freshman class, are wholly unlike their Republican brethren in that they are as protectionist as their Democratic foes…

By a margin of 63 per cent to 24 per cent, Americans who sympathize with the Tea Party oppose trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), whereas unaligned Republicans split 42 per cent to 42 per cent.

But, the report also finds:

Support for free trade on both sides of the aisle is highly sensitive to the identity of the partner.

An astonishing 81 percent of Americans see trade with Canada as being “fair, up slightly from 79 per cent in 2002.

Ameagre 29 per cent of Americans describe trade with China as being fair)

The report’s bottom line advice to Ottawa:

1)  Understand that trade is not a priority going forward, and,

2)  Ottawa should avoid using the word “NAFTA” in Washington. Americans see trade with Canada much as they do trade between their home state and North Dakota. NAFTA has other connotations:

The simple truth is that in Washington, NAFTA means trade with Mexico, and this comes with a lot of baggage, ranging from anxieties about outsourcing to labour and environmental standards, and even immigration. To avoid getting bogged down by these wider concerns about globalization, Ottawa should keep NAFTA out of the public discussion of Canada–U.S. trade.


I am now on Twitter under luizachsavage.

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