Canadians and the Canada-EU Free Trade Agreement

Canada-EU Free Trade: Half aware of the talks; Most think it will have a positive impact on the Canadian economy

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According to a new survey from Abacus Data, less than one in two Canadians (48%) were aware that Canada and the European Union were currently in negotiations over a free trade agreement between the two jurisdictions.  Despite the low awareness levels, a majority of Canadians believed that a Canada-EU free trade deal would have a positive effect on the Canadian economy.

“If the Canada-EU trade deal is going to be a centre piece of the federal government’s economic action plan, the government really needs to communicate its intentions better with the public,” said Abacus Data CEO David Coletto.  “While most Canadians think a Canada-EU trade deal will mean good things for the Canadian economy, half of the country doesn’t even know the talks are happening.”

Awareness of Free Trade Talks

Overall there was low awareness among Canadian respondents of free trade agreement talks with the European Union. Over half (52%) of Canadians said that they were unaware of the government’s trade discussions with the EU. Fewer, forty-eight per cent (48%) said that they were aware of trade talks before completing the survey.

There was little regional distinction when it comes to awareness of the trade deal but interestingly, Conservative Party supporters were less likely to be aware of the trade talks than NDP or Liberal Party supporters.

It is no surprise that the politically disengaged are less likely to be aware of political issues such as free trade talks with Europe.

Among young people, aged 18 to 29, awareness was much lower than that of older Canadians (only 36% compared with 60% among those aged 60 and over).

Impact of Free Trade with the European Union on the Canadian Economy

Overall, a majority of Canadians (55%) believed that a free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union would have a positive impact on the Canadian economy.   However, only 11% believed it would have a “very” positive impact indicating that opinions are likely soft and the positive reaction to “free trade with Europe” is a result of the default pro-trade position of most Canadians.

Very few Canadians (11%) believed that a free trade deal with Europe would have a negative effect on the Canadian economy.

Those who were aware of trade talks were more likely to believe a free trade agreement with the EU have a positive impact on the Canadian economy. Those who were unaware were more likely to say that they are unsure about whether this would be good for the economy or not.

Given low awareness of the issue, there is room for influence in opinions about whether this would be a good or bad influence on the Canadian economy.  Those with low levels of awareness who are civically disengaged are particularly open to influence on this issue.

Issue Negotiations

Respondents were asked for their opinion about two contentious aspects of a deal rumoured to be included such as whether or not our government should allow European companies to bid on large infrastructure projects and on whether or not we should allow free imports from European dairy producers.  Overall, there some disagreement among Canadians on both issues.

When it comes to allowing European dairy producers to sell more of their products, like cheese, in Canada, forty-six per cent (46%) either somewhat or strongly supported this proposal. A little less than one third (31%) of Canadians say they were opposed to the idea of increased access for European dairy producers.

Opposition to allowing more access for European dairy producers was highest among those living in rural communities (42%), in Quebec (37%), and among NDP supporters (36%).

There was greater opposition to the idea of allowing European companies to bid on contracts for large infrastructure projects in Canada.

Forty-two per cent (42%) said they were opposed to the idea allowing European competition on large Canadian infrastructure projects while one in three (33%) said they support allowing competition.  The remainder of Canadian respondents (26%) said they would neither support nor oppose competition on Canadian infrastructure projects.

Opposition to this proposal was greatest among rural respondents (55%) and those over the age of 60 (56%).

Bottom Line

The Harper Government has made a free trade deal between Canada and the European Union a centrepiece of its Economic Action Plan.  But less than half of Canadians are even aware that a deal is being negotiated.

There is both good and bad news for the federal government in these numbers.

The good news is that most Canadians reactive positively to a free trade deal with the EU in principal.  A majority believe it will have a positive impact on the Canadian economy and very few believe it will have a negative impact.

The bad news is that the devil is always in the details.  Many Canadians would oppose parts of a deal that include allowing European construction companies to bid on infrastructure projects in Canada while Canadians living in rural communities are opposed to allowing greater access to the Canadian market for European dairy producers.

If a deal is signed, communicating the benefits of the deal will be critical.  Canada is a trading nation and in general, Canadians respond positively to free trade.  But explaining the more complicated and controversial aspects of a final deal will be important especially with a key part of the Conservative coalition – rural Canada.

David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and leads its Public Affairs research practice. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University.  He’s an avid road cyclist.

Contact David Coletto:

T: 613-232-2806 x. 248

E: david@abacusdata.ca

W: http://www.abacusdata.ca

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