Bitumen, beef, booze, berries and bees: What's at stake for Alberta in a U.S. trade war

Check out this breakdown of Alberta's imports and exports — state by state — to see what Trump's increasingly isolationist trade talk might mean for our economy and our grocery bills.

Check out the interactive graphs and maps below to see what we trade with each state in the union

Alberta's biggest export, by far, to the U.S. is oil, but beef is also among the top five. The flow of goods northward is smaller but much more varied, including wine and strawberries from California and bees (yes, the insects) from Hawaii. (Larry MacDougall, Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press, Sharon Mollerus via Photopin, Jacky Naegelen/Reuters)

Growing anti-free-trade rhetoric from the United States is causing growing concern on both sides of the border.

Depending on the day — and, it seems, with whom he last spoke — President Donald Trump has variously said he wants to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or simply tweak it.

There has also been talk of a general border-adjustment tax, further adding to anxious nerves among businesses that rely on cross-border trade.

Uncertainty still reigns and, until American lawmakers shift from talk to action, it's unclear exactly what it will all mean for Alberta.

But we can look at what's at stake.

Our province exports far more than it imports, according to trade data from Industry Canada.

And, not surprisingly, oil and gas make up the vast majority of what we sell to American buyers. 

By contrast, our imports from the U.S. are far smaller — and far more varied.

At $4.4 billion, light oils were the province's biggest import in 2016, followed by aircraft at $728 million.

Third on the list was crude oil at $343 million, followed by railway tanker cars at $244 million and taps and valves and similar appliances at $179 million.

But those top five products, mostly for industrial use, were dwarfed by the rest of the list.

The "everything else" category includes many consumer goods — including everyday items you probably picked up on your last trip to the grocery store.

Wine imports from the U.S. rung in at $109 million last year — and that doesn't include sparkling wine.

Strawberries? $74 million.

Another $70 million in lettuce.

And $69 million for dog and cat food.

All those are among just the top 25 imported products. The list goes on and on, and varies from state to state.

This interactive map shows Alberta's imports from the U.S. last year, state by state. Roll your mouse over or tap on a state for more detail. You can also zoom using the + and - buttons.

You might be surprised to learn our top import from Hawaii is bees. (Yes, the insects.)

You're probably not surprised that Nevada sells us more gaming machines than anything else.

Curtains are our biggest import from Maryland. From Oregon, it's Portland cement.

From Idaho it's not potatoes, but rather monoammonium phosphate, a chemical used as a fertilizer. (Potatoes are ninth on the list.)

By far, though, our biggest trading partner — in terms of both imports and exports — is Illinois, a state rich in refineries.

We sent them $19.2 billion in crude oil last year and bought $3 billion back in light oil.

This interactive map shows Alberta's exports to the U.S. last year, state by state. Roll your mouse over or tap on a state for more detail. You can also zoom using the + and - buttons.

With such interconnected economies, it's no wonder people on both sides of the border are getting anxious about what lies ahead for free trade.

Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd tried to calm frayed nerves during a trade summit in Calgary this week, where business people from both Canada and the U.S. gathered with politicians and academics.

"Last week President Trump expressed concerns with some aspects of trade, including energy," McCuaig-Boyd told the crowd.

"I want to assure you that we are watching closely and pay attention to the comments that we hear, and our government will continue to engage our American friends on a variety of levels."

Still, many seemed unsure about what exactly the future will hold.

"There's a lot of unknowns out there," said Michael Reeves, president of the Texas-based Ports-to-Plains Alliance, which advocates for the easier flow of goods between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Reeves said a big part of his group's work involves lobbying U.S. congressmen who buy into protectionist rhetoric without considering its potential impacts on American workers.

Michael Reeves, president the Ports-to-Plains Alliance, says many Americans, including U.S. lawmakers, don't realize how much American jobs depend on trade with Canada and Mexico. (Colin Hall/CBC)

"People may not be aware how many of these jobs are dependent upon trade," he said.

"I think that's part of the problem."

Ports-to-Plains focuses most of its efforts on the agricultural and energy sectors — two areas that happen to be especially important to Alberta's economy as well.

And if there's one thing that reassures Reeves, it's that those sectors are also "key" in the economies of many areas from which Trump draws his biggest support.

"Those are areas that voted for president Trump, so those are areas that he'll listen to," Reeves said.

"Canada and Mexico are two of our top three trade partners. If you cut off those markets, then you're hurting farmers, you're hurting middle Americans, and a lot of those people are Trump supporters."


Robson Fletcher

Data Journalist

Robson Fletcher's work for CBC Calgary focuses on data, analysis and investigative journalism. He joined CBC in 2015 after spending the previous decade working as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba.