The Globe and Mail‘s Steven Chase emphasizes that although Canada is a major trading partner of the United States, the United States as a whole is much less dependent on Canadian trade than vice versa. Only two American states, Vermont and Michigan, reach the levels of the Canadian provinces least dependent on American trade, and the rest are much less dependent.
The Canadian government is fond of repeating that Canada is the most important foreign market for 35 U.S. states, in an effort to head off rising American protectionism, and this statistic came up several times during a crucial first meeting Monday between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump in Washington. But this calculation of the benefit Canada provides to its southern neighbour glosses over the fact that the United States, with ten times the population, is far less reliant on foreign trade in general.
According to Trevor Tombe, a University of Calgary economist, there are in fact only two American states out of 50 – Michigan and Vermont – where trade with Canada exceeds 10 per cent of their annual economic output.
By comparison, Canada’s provinces are in large part overwhelmingly dependent on keeping the borders open with the U.S. Forty-nine per cent of Ontario’s gross domestic product depends on trade with the United States. For Quebec, that number is 23 per cent. For Alberta, it’s 31 per cent.
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A Nanos Research survey, conducted between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1, found that 58 per cent of Canadians surveyed would “support” or “somewhat support … Canada having a trade war with the U.S.” if the Trump administration slapped new tariffs on goods from Canada.
Only 35 per cent were opposed or somewhat opposed. Veteran Canadian trade consultant Peter Clark said he believes Canadians who talk tough to pollsters may be overestimating Canada’s bargaining power with their neighbour.
“The Americans just have to increase their own production 10 to 15 per cent to replace what we provide them, generally.” He said fights over softwood or shingles or wheat in decades past are mere skirmishes compared with the much bigger conflict that could arise if Canada and the United States get into a tit-for-tat war over border taxes.