Search Penny Hill Press

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

United States-Canada Trade and Economic Relationship: Prospects and Challenges

Ian F. Fergusson
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

The United States and Canada conduct the world’s largest bilateral trade relationship, with total merchandise trade (exports and imports) exceeding $429.7 billion in 2009. The U.S.-Canadian relationship revolves around the themes of integration and asymmetry: integration from successive trade liberalization from the U.S.-Canada Auto Pact of 1965 leading to North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and asymmetry resulting from Canadian dependence on the U.S. market and from the disparate size of the two economies.

The economies of the United States and Canada are highly integrated, a process that has been accelerated by the bilateral U.S.-Canada free trade agreement (FTA) of 1988 and the NAFTA of 1994. Both are affluent industrialized economies, with similar standards of living and industrial structure. However, the two economies diverge in size, per capita income, productivity and net savings.

Canada is the largest single-country trading partner of the United States. In 2009, total merchandise trade with Canada consisted of $224.9 billion in imports and $204.7 billion in exports. In 2007, China displaced Canada as the largest source for U.S. imports for the first time, a trend that has continued since then. While Canada is an important trading partner for the United States, the United States is the dominant trade partner for Canada, and trade is a dominant feature of the Canadian economy. Automobiles and auto parts, a sector which has become highly integrated due to free trade, make up the largest sector of traded products. Canada is also the largest exporter of energy to the United States. Like the United States, the Canadian economy is affected by the transformation of China into an economic superpower. The United States and Canada also have significant stakes in each other’s economy through foreign direct investment.

Both countries are members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and both are partners with Mexico in the NAFTA. While most trade is conducted smoothly, several disputes remain contentious. Disputes concerning the 2006 softwood lumber agreement are under arbitration, and Canada has sought WTO consultations over country-of-origin-labeling requirements. In addition, the United States has placed Canada on its Special 301 priority watch list over intellectual property rights enforcement issues. Canada has also vigorously protested the implementation of the “Buy American” provisions of the economic stimulus package.

The terrorist attacks of 2001 focused attention on the U.S.-Canadian border. Several bilateral initiatives have been undertaken to minimize disruption to commerce from added border security. The focus on the border has renewed interest in some quarters in greater economic integration, either through incremental measures such as greater regulatory cooperation or potentially larger goals such as a customs or monetary union. Congressional interest has focused mostly on trade disputes, and also on the ability of the two nations to continue their traditional volume of trade with heightened security on the border. 

Date of Report: September 2, 2010
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: RL33087
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press  or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.