How the TPP could affect Canada’s auto industry

Workers inspect vehicles and work on the assembly line at Honda of Canada Mfg. Plant 2 in Alliston, Ont., on Monday, March 30, 2015.

The auto sector is one of the key sectors involved in the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Here are a few things to know about Canada’s auto manufacturing sector — and how a possible TPP could affect it:

Economic impact: The manufacturing of vehicles and auto parts contributes roughly $20 billion to the country’s GDP and directly employs 120,000 people, not including spin-off jobs, according to a 2014 report from the Automotive Policy Research Centre at McMaster University.

NAFTA: Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, an auto part needed to contain 60 per cent North American content and a fully assembled vehicle needed to have 62.5 per cent North American-made content in order to remain duty free.

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TPP: Japan was pushing to allow for the tariff-free movement of vehicles and auto parts that contain as little as 30 per cent content produced in the countries that are part of the trade agreement. Stakeholders say that it increased the ratio very slightly in these talks – although the sides are also said to have reached a more complex formula that includes exceptions for different parts. Concern has been expressed that Canadian auto parts makers will lose business to low-cost Asian producers that aren’t part of the trade deal, such as China, Vietnam and Thailand.

Jobs: Canadian auto parts manufacturers employed roughly 81,700 people in 2014, according to a report from the Conference Board of Canada. Tony Faria, an auto industry expert at the University of Windsor, predicts that roughly 10,000 of those jobs could be at stake due to the TPP.

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Challenges: In recent years, manufacturers of both auto parts and vehicles have been shifting production from Canada to Mexico and the southern United States, where labour costs are cheaper. More than 200 auto parts manufacturing facilities have been shuttered over the past decade, according to the Automotive Policy Research Centre, and layoffs have been made at assembly plants as well. General Motors announced in April that it will lay off 1,000 workers at its Oshawa plant as it shifts production of the Camaro to Michigan, and more job losses are expected.

Trade: Although Canada once exported more automotive products than it imported, the surplus shrank to a deficit in 2007 and has remained that way ever since. Some industry observers are concerned that the proposed trade deal could widen that deficit even further.

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