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Canadians Increasingly Wary About Free Trade with Asia and Emerging Markets

Posted June 10, 2014

A new survey conducted by the Angus Reid polling firm on behalf of the Asia Pacific Foundation suggests that many Canadians consider increased trade ties with Asia, and China in particular, to be more of a threat than an opportunity.

Between 2012 and 2014, there was a nine-point drop in Canadians who viewed a growing China more as an opportunity than a threat (from 50% to 41%) and a seven-point drop in those viewing India more as an opportunity than a threat (from 57% to 50%).

Respondents surveyed expressed strong concerns about labour and business practices in Asia. More than four-fifths (82%) agreed that the low cost of labour in Asia makes it difficult for Canadians to compete. Over half (53%) agreed that state support for business in Asia gives an unfair advantage to Asian companies doing business in Canada.

Support for free trade agreements with most Asian countries was highest in Alberta. It was the only province where a majority (52%) supported a free trade deal with South Korea (presumably because of anticipated benefits from increased beef exports).

When respondents were asked to rate countries by their importance to Canada’s economic prosperity, they tend to view the Asian trade partners as more important than other emerging countries like Brazil, Russia, and South Africa. Even so, those who agreed that Asia is important to their province’s economic prosperity declined from previous years (down nine points from 55% in 2013 to 46% in 2014). A majority of British Columbians (73%) and Albertans (55%) consider Asia important, but far fewer people in Manitoba (35%), Ontario (43%), Quebec (41%), and the Atlantic provinces (28%) share that sentiment. Moreover, Canadians are reluctant to accept policy adjustments that could facilitate economic engagement with Asian countries and fewer Canadians agree that strengthening economic relations with Asia should be a top foreign policy (37%) than disagree (46%).

The lack of support for engagement with Asia is striking when compared to that for increased engagement with Canada’s traditional trade partners. Strong majorities, for instance, support free trade with the European Union (67%) and Australia (69%). By contrast, most Canadians are relatively wary of deals with Asian and other emerging countries. A Canada-China free trade deal has about half (36%) the support of a deal with Australia, despite the fact that China is Canada’s second-largest trading partner. Support for deals with India (38%), South Korea (41%), and Southeast Asia (37%) are similarly low. Only a deal with Japan receives majority support (56%). It should be noted however that Canadians’ support for free trade agreements is conditional on factors beyond perceived economic importance — a fact which probably explains why Russia (28%) scored the lowest figure out of 11 major countries or trading blocs mentioned in the survey.

Asia Trade Survey Graphic

Graphic: Asia-Pacific Foundation

Click here to download the 2014 National Opinion Poll: Canadian Views on Asia