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1988: Free Trade Agreement signed

It was the most controversial agreement of its kind in Canadian history. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's vision of free trade with the U.S. read like a Harlequin romance: Canada played the neglected lover, U.S., the negligent partner. Empty promises and veiled threats were all part of the negotiating dance between the world's greatest trading partners. The 1988 Free Trade Agreement was as dry as a stack of legal textbooks and as emotional as battling American cultural domination. It's an issue that still causes heated debate.

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It's official. The signing of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade agreement on Jan. 2, 1988, is met with little fanfare and a smattering of protests as seen in this TV clip. But it's a moment Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has been fighting for since the 1985 Shamrock Summit in Ottawa. That's when Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Reagan first discussed the idea of free trade between the world's biggest trading partners.

But there's plenty of work ahead for Mulroney and his Progressive Conservatives. The final text of the trade agreement still needs to be ratified in the Liberal-dominated Senate. Despite the signatures on the agreement, the Liberal Party leader John Turner vows to do everything in his power to stop what he considers the sale of Canada.
• Free trade became Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's personal crusade after the 1985 summit but that wasn't always the case. During his 1983 Tory leadership campaign, Mulroney had spoken out against such a deal between Canada and the U.S. "The issue of free trade was decided in the election of 1911," said Mulroney, "And it affects Canadian sovereignty and we'll have none of it. Not during leadership campaigns or any other time."

• Free trade is defined as international trade free from protectionist tariffs quotas, export subsides and other government intervention.

• Mulroney and his Conservatives won another majority government after the November 1988 federal election. The decisive win gave Mulroney the go-ahead to implement the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

• At the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 1989, a full year after this official signing, the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement goes was finally implemented.

• On Jan. 1, 1994 the FTA was expanded to include Mexico and incorporated into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Also on January 2:
1908: The Royal Mint of Canada is founded in Ottawa.
1929: Niagara Falls remains a tourist spectacle, as Canada and the U.S. agree to limit daytime diversion of water through hydroelectric stations.
1942: Canada and 27 other nations at war with the Axis powers sign a UN declaration pledging not to make a separate armistice.
1997: Former Western Hockey League coach Graham James is sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for sexually assaulting two former players.
Medium: Television
Program: Saturday Report
Broadcast Date: Jan. 2, 1988
Guest(s): Bernie Berggraf, Shirley Carr, Gary Parent
Host: Barbara Smith
Reporter: Jane Chalmers
Duration: 2:10

Last updated: October 5, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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