Donald Trump And Hillary Clinton's Free Trade Talk Shouldn't Worry Canada Much. Here's Why.

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Donald Trump likes to talk a lot of trash about trade agreements that involve Canada.

In a "60 Minutes" interview last year, he called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) a disaster, and said he would renegotiate it.

donald trump

But when it comes to action, Trump's doing a lot more of this.

All this talk has less bite than it does bark, according to a TD Bank report released Monday.

But concerns nevertheless exist among Canadian businesses as both Trump, and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, ramp up the rhetoric on free trade in the race for the White House.

Trump, for example, has proposed a 35 per cent tariff on imports from Mexico. But that could hurt America's businesses as much as it does its neighbour to the south, because many of those products have content that was made in the U.S. to begin with.

nafta inputs

The chart above, from TD Bank, shows that products imported from Mexico could have as much as 11.7 per cent of value that was added in the U.S. Another study says this content could be as high as 40 per cent.

"That shows that tariffs on Mexican imports would heavily impact U.S. suppliers, in addition to raising prices for consumers," TD Bank said.

Then there are questions as to how much presidents can actually do.

capitol building washington
The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Sadura/Getty Images)

The U.S. can withdraw from NAFTA with six months' notice. But it's not clear whether the president can do this without the approval of Congress.

TD Bank said previous trade agreements such as NAFTA and the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA) have been treated as "congressional-executive agreements" and have received the stamp of approval from the House of Representatives and the Senate.

And because Republicans voted in support of NAFTA even more than Democrats did, it's tough to believe that a GOP-dominated Congress would stand behind protectionist free trade policies, the bank added.

barack obama trans pacific partnership
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with leaders from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the US embassy in Beijing on November 10, 2014. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Presidents have also tended to soften their free trade talk when they have reached office.

Take Barack Obama, for example. The outgoing U.S. president made a number of anti-NAFTA statements while running for the Oval Office in 2008.

But once he ended up there, he gave his support to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries including Canada, the U.S., Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

Clinton, meanwhile, voted in favour of free trade deals during her time in the Senate.

"Protectionist policies are like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube ..."

TD Bank wasn't dismissive of concerns that Canadian businesses might have as Trump and Clinton duke it out for the presidency.

It noted that Canada's meat industry lost as much as $1 billion every year from 2009 to 2015, amid a row over country of origin labelling.

But ultimately, Canada can take solace in one thing: that presidential candidates often talk tougher on the hustings than they do when they reach office, TD Bank said.

"Protectionist policies are like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube — it's difficult to do, messy, and can be wasteful," the report read.

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