Canada will take bigger economic hit than U.S. if Trump wins election: report

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Canada stands to bear a greater economic burden than the United States if Donald Trump wins the upcoming presidential election and imposes promised tax cuts and tariffs on all U.S. imports, a new report warns.

The analysis released Tuesday by Scotiabank Economics says if Trump returns to the White House and follows through on his vow to slap a 10-per cent tariff on all imported goods — with the exception of China, which would face a 60-per cent carve-out on its U.S. exports — and countries retaliate with their own, there would be “substantial negative impacts” on the U.S. economy. GDP would likely fall by more than two per cent by 2027 relative to current forecasts, while inflation would rise 1.5 per cent, leading to a two per cent interest rate hike.

In Canada, the economic impact would be even more stark with an expected GDP drop of 3.6 per cent, given its reliance on trade with the U.S. Inflation and interest rates would also be pushed up for the next two years — 1.7 per cent and 190 basis points, respectively — the report suggests.

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“What Trump is looking to do is much broader, and much more concerning, than the tariffs he imposed during his first term,” said Scotiabank’s chief economist Jean-François Perrault, who authored the report.

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The report also serves as another reminder that Canada needs to urgently address its issues with lagging productivity, warning the problem makes Canada more vulnerable to economic shocks brought by trade policy changes in the U.S. and abroad.

Perrault says it’s far too late to fix the problem in time for the U.S. election in November.

“It takes a long time to change direction on productivity,” he said in an interview. “Maybe you can make up some ground over the next few quarters, but we need massive amounts of progress to get to where we need to be (to withstand U.S. economic shocks).”

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Trump's policies seen as more likely than Biden's

Although the analysis examined the impact of policies proposed by both Trump and U.S. President Joe Biden, it focuses more on the fallout from Trump’s promises.

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That’s because they’re not only more potentially harmful, Perrault said, but also because they’re more likely to be implemented than Biden’s vow to raise the corporate tax rate.

“There’s really no appetite in the U.S. right now for any kind of tax hike,” Perrault said.

Implementing a change to the corporate tax rate would require Biden’s Democrat party to control both chambers of Congress — a scenario seen as highly unlikely, given recent polling. Trump’s proposals, meanwhile, are seen as more likely to be implemented quickly and without congressional approval, particularly his expanded tariffs.

During his presidency, Trump imposed tariffs on about US$50 billion worth of Chinese goods imported to the U.S., later expanding to another US$300 billion, sparking a trade war with China. Many of those tariffs have remained in place under the Biden administration.

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Trump also slapped tariffs up to 25 per cent on imported washing machines, solar panels, steel and aluminum in 2018. Canada and Mexico were later exempted from the steel and aluminum tariffs in 2019, although the Canadian aluminum tariff was briefly reintroduced in 2020.

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U.S. government data shows those tariffs — none of which were legislated or approved by Congress — have cost American manufacturers more than US$230 billion as of March 2024 and have shrunk the U.S. economy by 0.3 per cent.

Trump has repeatedly claimed tariffs serve to punish unfair trade practices from other countries, despite agreement among economists that they raise prices for American consumers, and says he wants to expand them to 10 per cent on all imported goods from every country if he wins in November. He has also said he will seek a 100 per cent tariff on imported cars, and carve out a 60 per cent tariff for Chinese imports specifically.

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The most likely scenario — a continuation of Trump’s 2017 tax cuts beyond their 2025 expiration combined with across-the-board tariffs — would see Canada’s GDP stay three per cent lower long-term, and just over one-per cent lower in the U.S.

The Scotiabank report says the economic harm from the tariffs can be reduced on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border if Canada and Mexico negotiate an exemption with the U.S. under the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during the Trump administration.

Scotiabank predicts in that scenario, Canada’s GDP would only fall by 1.4 per cent in the short term — half the drop forecast without an exemption — and 0.3 per cent in the long term, while U.S. GDP would fall 1.7 per cent and 1.2 per cent, respectively.

Perrault says he’s “hopeful” such a carve-out could be negotiated, even though Trump would likely insist on further concessions that benefit U.S. trade. That “bigger stick” approach could be somewhat limited compared to the contentious CUSMA negotiations, however.

“Trump owns CUSMA, so he wouldn’t be in as much of a position to throw it away,” he said. “So maybe we get a little bit of a break.”

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The report also examines the impact of Trump’s repeated vow to mass deport roughly 10 million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the U.S., which Perrault admits would be “politically and logistically infeasible.” It would also be economically harmful, the analysis found, permanently reducing both U.S. employment and GDP by three per cent, though the impact on Canada would be negligible.

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The analysis says Canada and the U.S. could see additional economic impacts due to a number of scenarios it didn’t explore, including China retaliating to tariffs by unloading its U.S. Treasury holdings; further debt ceiling and budgetary crises in the U.S.; Trump’s appeasement of aggressive foreign adversaries like Russia and China; and domestic civil disorder regardless of who wins the U.S. elections.

Perrault said the findings also underscore the key difference between Trump and Biden as Canadian trade partners.

“Biden seems to view negotiations from a collaborative approach: how can everyone come away with a win?” he said. “Trump doesn’t see it that way. He’s very much in the mindset of, ‘How will this benefit me?'”

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