NAFTA is the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere, but certainly ever signed in this country.
–Donald J. Trump (Source: September 26, 2016 US Presidential Debate.)
US Trade protectionism was a key theme of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump vowed to ‘Make America Great Again’ by renegotiating ‘lousy’ trade deals and reclaiming American manufacturing jobs lost to globalization.
Notwithstanding the odd anti-NAFTA rhetoric, Canada has largely been spared the political piñata treatment that Trump affords Mexico—and more recently Germany. But, let’s not kid ourselves. What goes around comes around, and Canada’s turn as the presidential punching bag de jour is coming around.
What does this mean for BC? Will British Columbians reconsider how they value international trade relationships? Shortly after Trump’s election win, I surveyed 1000 adult BC residents to find out. Starting with the premise that Trump’s protectionism will hurt Canadian businesses, I asked:
Q: AGREE/DISAGREE: “As President, Donald Trump will make trade between Canada and US more difficult for Canadian companies.”
Two-thirds agreed—they saw the same potentially harmful US trade policies as I did. This is not a minor point. Political graveyards are filled with careers ended by unpopular policies heralded as the only solution to a problem nobody had ever heard of. Sell the problem, not the remedy. Fortunately, this problem is well understood. But, what is the remedy?
Q: AGREE/DISAGREE: “Canada should make new trade agreements to compensate for tough new trade policies expected from the Trump administration.”
Two-thirds agree that new trade agreements are needed. Contrast these results with the June 2016 survey by the Asia Pacific Foundation (APF). Then, only half of BCers (53%) agreed that:
“The Canadian government should do more to facilitate trade and investment missions for Canadian companies to visit Asian countries.”
It is not an ‘apples to apples’ comparison, and that is my point. The difference in the questions is the context of President Trump vs. the mention of Asia.
The Asia Pacific Foundation has tracked Canadian public opinion towards trade and investment with Asia for over a decade. Generally speaking, Canadians are weary of trade with China. While British Columbians tend to be less so, they still harbour significant reservations. So I asked:
Q: AGREE/DISAGREE: “Canada should strengthen its trade relationship with China.”
54% agreed—a majority of British Columbians. Would I have gotten the same result had I asked the question without the context of a Trump Presidency? Probably not. I suspect my numbers would be closer to the Asia Pacific Foundation’s results from 2015 when only 37% of British Columbians would support an investment in Canada from a Chinese company. This is my point: the spectre of a protectionist Trump administration has many British Columbians reconsidering where they stand on trade with China.
- There is room to move—anxiety about Trump and US protectionism is a problem that begs a solution.
- British Columbians are open to new ideas surrounding international trade.
- In particular, they accept new markets and trade agreements are needed.
- With regard to China, Trump could be a game changer for BC.
- In the context of the Trump administration, a majority want to see stronger trade relations with China.
- There may be new opportunities for Chinese investments and acquisitions.
- Transactions previously considered politically infeasible may now be on the table.
Timing: November 25 – 28, 2016.
Sample: 1008 British Columbia residents 18 years of age or older.
Data collection: Randomly selected members of an online panel were invited to complete the survey. Research Now was the panel supplier for this survey.
Weighting: Final results were weighted to reflect the most recent Canadian census statistics for age, gender, and regions of British Columbia.
Margin of error: +/- 3.1% 19 times out of 20.