Canada Puts Microscope on Trade Exports Rise, but Many Canadians Still Question 1988 Pact with US and New Mexico Deal
Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
THE uphill fight to convince a mostly skeptical Canadian public that it badly needs the new North American Free Trade Agreement has kicked into gear.
The agreement, called NAFTA for short, would link Canada, the United States, and Mexico in the world's largest trading group, a US$7 trillion market of 360 million people. It is supposed to be a key campaigning point for the conservative government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in elections expected next spring.
Earlier this month the government announced a $3.1 million (Canadian; US$2.5 million) campaign to rally public support for NAFTA, on the basis that it complements the 1989 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
But it will not be an easy sell. In June just 28 percent of Canadians favored NAFTA and 65 percent were against it, according to Environics, a Toronto polling firm. A government survey last month, however, reported 46 percent in favor of the deal, a dramatic shift several independent pollsters question.
Both sides say that selling or dissuading the public on NAFTA requires evaluating the impact of the FTA. And here the fun begins, because the main tools for looking at the FTA's impact - and the presumed merits of NAFTA - are statistics.
Both sides are already picking over the data from the government's number-cruncher, Statistics Canada, to see how Canada has faired under the FTA, especially against the US, Canada's largest trading partner.
Anti-free-trade groups have been blaming free trade for the lion's share of roughly 350,000 lost manufacturing jobs and the 11.6 percent unemployment rate. But several economists say only about a quarter of the total are lost because of the FTA, the rest from the nation's long recession.
When second-quarter figures were released Sept. 17, the government pointed happily to the 8 percent rise in exports so far this year. Trade Minister Michael Wilson told Parliament that Canadian exporters have taken advantage of the fall in US tariffs. …