WITH Canadian unemployment at 10.2 percent, analysts say it is no wonder sponsorship of the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement has become a political liability for the federal conservative government and its prime minister, Brian Mulroney.
Canadian Ambassador to the United States Derek Burney, one of the architects of the agreement, acknowledged in a recent interview that while little attention is paid to the FTA in the US, "it's still a very hot issue in Canada."
On the plus side, Ambassador Burney cites a growth in trade between Canada and the US in the past two years, though both trading partners were hit by recession.
Canada has also moved from a net outflow of direct investment to a net inflow of $5 billion in direct investment for the first time in 15 years, he said, describing free trade as "a conditioning factor" in attracting it.
Still, he says, any job lost, any plant closure in Canada, "is usually blamed" on the free-trade agreement.
"The other day in Canada when somebody said 'well what about all the jobs we're losing because of the free-trade agreement,' I said well you know 462,000 jobs disappeared in the United States in the last couple of months - the only difference is that I haven't heard any American blame it on the free-trade agreement with Canada."
Though showing a flash of irritation at this, Burney acknowledges "we have to work very hard as a government to demonstrate that the agreement's making a significant difference in our relationship with the United States."
Referring obliquely to past and current trade disputes over soft-wood products and automobile content regulations, Burney says the best way to convince Canadians of the FTA's values "is to have the obligations and the agreement respected by both sides."