Trump election win increases uncertainty for Canadian trade: economists

Economists say Donald Trump's storming victory to claim the White House has ramped up uncertainty for Canadian trade with the United States.

Trump's aims on trade may be tempered by Republican-controlled Congress

Republican U.S. president-elect Donald Trump speaks at his U.S. election night rally in Manhattan, N.Y., on Wednesday. Economists are discussing uncertain times, especially in the area of border dealings, in the wake of Trump's win. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Economists say Donald Trump's storming victory to claim the White House has ramped up uncertainty for Canadian trade with the United States.

The Republican defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton after he campaigned on a platform that included a pledge to renegotiate NAFTA and spike the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

"Canada was not the focus of Trump's anti-trade rhetoric during the campaign, but as a member of NAFTA, if the president-elect pursues renegotiation, it will cause a great deal of uncertainty for the $51 billion in goods that cross the border every month," TD Bank economists Beata Caranci and Leslie Preston said in commentary.

Faced with the possibility of being forced to the table to renegotiate the NAFTA deal, Canada and Mexico both saw their currencies retreat Wednesday.

TD pointed out that Trump's position on NAFTA isn't in complete accord with that of the Republican Party, which is more friendly to free trade.

"The checks and balances of Congress will likely be hard at work," Caranci and Preston said.

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"However, these differences are ultimately at the root of financial market angst," they said. "International investors are not sure what to expect."

'Vulnerable position'

Economists at CIBC said Trump's concerns about globalization are mostly focused on low-cost producers, such as China and Mexico, "but tearing up NAFTA would leave Canada in a vulnerable position."

Canada and the U.S. could revert to a bilateral free trade arrangement that excludes Mexico, said Royce Mendes and Avery Shenfeld.

While that might help Canada win business in the U.S., there are also risks that "protectionist sentiments could extend to restrictions on some Canadian shipments to the US, given the political tide in that direction," they said.

Tightly integrated

At Bank of Montreal, economists Douglas Porter and Sal Gautieri said if Trump takes unilateral steps to pull out of NAFTA, Canadian exporters and importers would be hurt by disruptions to tightly integrated supply chains across borders.

Highlighting the level of integration between the Canadian and U.S. economies, Peter Hall, chief economist at Export Development Canada, pointed out that each assembled vehicle shipped to the U.S. from Canada has 63 per cent U.S. content

"Disengaging would be a very disruptive process for the U.S., and during the period of disruption, it would certainly not appear to the average American businessperson or consumer to be in their best personal interests," Hall said in a commentary.

Meanwhile, tax cuts could boost the competitiveness of U.S. companies, something that might undermine Canadian exporters, "especially if Canadian firms need to pay more for a greener environment," BMO said.

However, Porter and Guatieri pointed out that if the U.S. economy gets a boost due to expansionary fiscal policy, Canadian exports could stand to benefit.

Roberto Azevedo, director general of the World Trade Organization, tweeted his congratulations to Trump on his win, adding that U.S. leadership in the global economy and trading system remains vital.

Azevedo said the WTO was "ready to support the administration to ensure trade is a positive element in a new strategy for development [and] job creation."