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What President Trump Means for Canada

By Chad Fraser on November 18, 2016

Ever since Trump’s unexpected victory at the polls, trade has been a hot topic here in Canada.

With good reason: President-Elect Trump has spoken of renegotiating NAFTA, the trade deal governing Canada’s relationship with its biggest export market. On occasion, he’s even vowed to pull the U.S. out of the agreement entirely.

In 2015, the U.S. took in $325.4 billion worth of goods and services from Canada, or about 75% of the Great White North’s total exports.

In the past, presidential candidates (including Barack Obama in 2008) and Canadian prime ministers (Jean Chretien in 1993) have campaigned on renegotiating NAFTA, but all have changed their tune once the votes were counted.

Given Trump’s particularly heated rhetoric on NAFTA during the campaign, he’s unlikely to backpedal—though it’s important to remember that, to date, his ire has been entirely aimed at Mexico, not Canada.

But while NAFTA may be in for some changes, dumping it entirely would be trickier than Trump’s rhetoric suggests.

For one, there’s plenty of evidence that the U.S. has benefited from a more-open northern border.

Since 1993, when NAFTA came into force, American exports of goods to Canada—including machinery made in the Rust Belt states that broke for Trump on Nov. 8—have jumped 179%. And exports of services have soared 237%, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Canada is currently the largest export destination for both America as a whole (taking in 19% of U.S. exports) and 35 individual states, so there would likely be pushback if Trump did anything that jeopardizes U.S. companies’ access to foreign markets, including Canada’s.

Something else to keep in mind is that, according to David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., if the U.S. were to withdraw from NAFTA, the two countries would still be bound by the 1988 Canada/U.S. free-trade agreement, signed before NAFTA added Mexico to the bloc in 1994.

“I can’t imagine them wanting to do anything about [the 1988 free-trade agreement],” MacNaughton recently told Reuters.

Still, in light of the high level of interconnectedness between the countries, any change in trade terms—and wider U.S. fiscal policy—would have significant implications for the Canadian economy.

Here are two sectors to keep an eye on as Trump’s presidency unfolds, as well as a couple of non-Trump-related developments that should encourage Canadian economic growth in the longer term.

Canadian Oil: Set for a Post-Trump Bounce?

The Canadian energy sector probably has the most to be optimistic about post-election, particularly TransCanada Corp. (NYSE: TRP, TSX: TRP).

The pipeline operator had been stymied by the Obama administration’s rejection of its Keystone XL pipeline, which would deliver crude from Western Canada to the Gulf Coast. However, Trump has said he’d immediately sign off on Keystone, though he’s also said the U.S. would demand part of the profits.

The most direct beneficiary, of course, would be TransCanada itself. But Keystone’s approval and construction would have knock-on benefits for companies inside and outside the Alberta oil patch, too.

For example, Keystone could help Canadian producers narrow Western Canadian crude’s discount to West Texas Intermediate (WTI), which is around US$15 right now.

“Estimates vary, but Keystone alone would likely shrink the differential between WTI and Western Canadian by about $5 to $6 per barrel,” Trevor Tombe, an economics professor at the University of Calgary, recently told the Calgary Herald.

Higher prices would also benefit oil sands producers such as Suncor Energy Inc. (NYSE: SU, TSX: SU). Pipeline-service providers like ShawCor Ltd. (TSX: SCL, OTC: SAWLF) would also see higher demand.

That, in turn, could spur expansion in the oil patch, which would benefit non-energy companies with high exposure to Alberta, such as WestJet Airlines Ltd. (TSX: WJA, OTC: WJAFF).

Automotive Sector: Speed Bumps Ahead?

At the other end of the spectrum is the automotive sector, which relies heavily on cross-border trade, as a dizzying number of complete vehicles and parts flow between Canada and the U.S. daily.

But from an investor perspective, it’s important to keep in mind that the auto business is global in scope and highly interconnected, making it difficult to untangle. Canadian parts supplier Magna International (NYSE: MGA, TSX: MGA), for example, gets just 19% of its revenue from its plants in its home market.

And it’s not all bad news for the carmakers. They could see higher sales if Trump’s infrastructure-spending plan spurs U.S. economic growth, which would help prolong the auto-sales boom.

Beyond the U.S.

Meantime, there’s another catalyst that should bring better tidings north of the border: the recently signed Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and Canada, which will come into effect next year.

As Canadian Edge chief strategist Deon Vernooy wrote the day after the U.S. vote, CETA cuts import tariffs on almost all Canadian goods entering the $18 trillion E.U. economy. According to a Canada-E.U. study, it should boost trade between the E.U. and Canada by about 20% and open up plenty of new opportunities for Canadian companies.

Also still to come is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s C$186 billion infrastructure plan, which, according to the government’s latest fiscal update, is set to roll out over the next 11 years.

The bottom line? Investors should hold off on making any major moves until Trump’s campaign proposals start to meet the real world of governance. There will be risks, to be sure, over the next four years, but there will also be significant opportunities. As always, we’ll bring it all to your attention in Investing Daily’s Canadian Edge.

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