Most U.S. businesses positive about trade with Canada – but not Midwest, key Trump stronghold: poll

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Donald Trump calls free trade ‘stupid trade’
WATCH: U.S. President Donald Trump referenced Theodore Roosevelt when he said on Monday “reciprocity” is key to protecting the country – calling free trade “stupid trade.” – Jul 17, 2017

Fifty-four per cent of U.S. businesses say free trade with Canada has made the U.S. economy better off, according to a new poll by Nanos Research.

But U.S. companies in the Midwest are outliers in the study: only 46 per cent of surveyed employers there said lower trade barriers with Canada made them better off. The Midwest was the only region where fewer than half of U.S. firms felt positively about Canada.

The results were released Monday, as the Trump administration kicks off a three-week “Made in America” campaign ahead of the start of NAFTA renegotiations on Aug. 16.

U.S. President Donald Trump is widely expected to release today a list of official goals for the NAFTA talks.

READ MORE: Donald Trump’s NAFTA wish list coming soon

The Nanos poll, which was conducted between May 30 and June 10, highlights why the U.S. president wants trade concessions from Canada, even though most U.S. businesses see U.S. trade with its northern neighbour favourably.

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WATCH: Donald Trump on keeping manufacturing, jobs in the U.S.

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Donald Trump on keeping manufacturing, jobs in the U.S.

Midwestern states like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa all turned Republican during the 2016 election, helping Trump clinch the presidency.

READ MORE: Trudeau warns U.S. against ‘politically tempting shortcuts’ ahead of NAFTA renegotiations

The survey also shows that fewer than half of U.S. firms (45 per cent) believe NAFTA, which also includes Mexico, had a positive impact on the U.S. economy. One in four firms thinks the country is worse off because of NAFTA, while 13 per cent believe it has had no impact. Sixteen per cent are unsure.

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Midwestern businesses were even more negative about NAFTA than they were about Canada, with only 37 per cent saying the U.S. economy benefited from the free trade agreement.

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WATCH: Trudeau vows to be tough on Trump when it comes to NAFTA

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U.S. businesses hold dim view of Trump’s record on the economy so far

The Nanos poll also shows U.S. businesses are unimpressed with Trump’s performance on the economy so far.

More than half of surveyed U.S. employers said the president is making a somewhat negative (10 per cent) or negative (43 per cent) contribution to economic prosperity.

Notably, midwestern businesses were almost evenly split on Trump’s economic record, with 51 per cent saying he had a negative or somewhat negative impact.

READ MORE: Trump wants to restore U.S. auto industry jobs

The South also held a relatively better view of the president, with 48 per cent of firms there saying the president hurt the economy.

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That compares with almost 60 per cent of firms in the U.S. Northeast and 56 per cent of businesses in the West saying Trump has had a negative economic impact.

The Nanos poll surveyed 1,058 businesses ranging from companies with as few as 1-9 employees to firms with 10,000 employees and over. No margin of error applies to this research.

READ MORE: Trump wants to restore U.S. auto industry jobs

U.S. wish list on NAFTA could be made available today

After campaigning and complaining about NAFTA for two years, Trump is about to release a list as early as Monday revealing how he wants to change the deal.

American law requires that the administration publishes a list of its objectives entering trade negotiations. The reason this could happen any day is that the administration hopes to start negotiations around Aug. 16 and the law requires this list be posted online 30 days in advance.

Expect the Canadian government to say little in response to the list.

“I can’t imagine that we would start negotiating before the negotiations actually start,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

WATCH: PM urges U.S. governors to side with Canada on NAFTA

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PM urges U.S. governors to side with Canada on NAFTA

That tight-lipped approach stems from the Canadian government’s overall strategy: make the Americans lay out their cards first, given that they asked for these negotiations and in the parlance of trade talks are the “demandeur.”

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So far, the U.S. has signalled wildly conflicting approaches.

Trump keeps threatening to rip up the trade agreement in the absence of a major renegotiation. Bu his vice-president just delivered a speech exuding collegiality and promising a new NAFTA that would be a “win-win-win.”

Here’s what he expects in the new NAFTA: modern chapters on digital commerce, modelled on those in the now-dormant Trans-Pacific Partnership; changes to auto-parts import rules that all three countries can live with; and a bruising fight over dairy.

Veteran of U.S. trade negotiations, Welles Orr, predicts the dairy issue will come down to the final wire: “That’s the hotbed issue that’s hanging out there that will be the last issue to get resolved. But if that’s resolved, I don’t see a whole lot of contention on the Canadian side.”

With files from the Canadian Press

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