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A new Nanos survey found that 54 per cent of U.S. businesses think the country’s economy is in a better position because of free trade with Canada

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

More than one in two American businesses say the United States is better off because of free trade with Canada, with particularly strong support in the northeastern U.S., according to a new poll.

A new Nanos survey found that 54 per cent of U.S. businesses think the country's economy is in a better position because of free trade with Canada, while 15 per cent believe it is worse off, 17 per cent believe there has been no impact and 14 per cent are unsure.

Regionally speaking, surveyed businesses in the northeastern United States had the most positive impression of free trade with Canada, with 59 per cent saying the U.S. economy is better off because of it. Nearly 57 per cent of surveyed businesses in the southern United States had a positive impression of free trade with their northern neighbour, followed by the Western United States at 52 per cent and Midwest at 46 per cent.

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NAFTA: What does Trump want and when do talks start? A guide

The United States is expected to release its official NAFTA negotiating objectives on Monday. Canadian officials say talks could start within days, or at most weeks, of Aug. 16 – the first day that U.S. President Donald Trump's administration is legally allowed to begin NAFTA discussions.

"The key takeaway here is that American businesses see trade with Canada as an opportunity. It's not a threat," pollster Nik Nanos said in an interview.

"When we asked American businesses about the benefits of trade with Canada specifically, a majority see it as a net positive and that this is exceptionally so for any businesses located in the northeastern United States, which is part of the economic heart of the U.S."

U.S. businesses feel less positive about the impact of the North American free-trade agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico. Forty-five per cent of U.S. businesses surveyed said the economy is in a better position because of NAFTA, while 25 per cent think the economy is worse off and 13 per cent say there has been no impact. Much like their opinions on free trade with Canada, businesses in the northeastern United States had the most positive view on NAFTA, with about 49 per cent saying it benefits the U.S. economy, followed by businesses in the South at 47 per cent, the West at 45 per cent and the Midwest at 37 per cent.

The survey comes as North American leaders prepare to renegotiate the 1994 trade agreement. Speaking to a gathering of 31 U.S. governors in Rhode Island last Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged state leaders to prevent a resurgence of protectionism.

"Such policies kill growth. And that hurts the very workers these measures are nominally intended to protect. Once we travel down that road, it can quickly become a cycle of tit for tat, a race to the bottom, where all sides lose," Mr. Trudeau said, adding that he looks forward to renegotiating the agreement "as soon as possible."

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The Trump administration has sent mixed messages on its approach to rewriting NAFTA. In the 2016 election campaign, Mr. Trump promised to tear up the agreement if he didn't get a better deal for U.S. workers; he has since assured Mr. Trudeau that he is only seeking tweaks to the agreement. Speaking on Friday in Rhode Island, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said the renegotiation would be a "win-win-win" for all three partner countries.

In the survey, businesses also expressed more confidence in the Federal Reserve, which is the U.S. central bank, in supporting economic prosperity than Mr. Trump and Congress. More than four in 10 U.S. businesses believe the Federal Reserve is making a positive (15 per cent) or somewhat positive (28 per cent) contribution toward supporting economic prosperity in the country. However, 53 per cent of businesses surveyed said they believe the President is making a negative (43 per cent) or somewhat negative (10 per cent) impact on economic prosperity, while 51 per cent said Congress is making a negative (28 per cent) or somewhat negative (23 per cent) contribution.

This poll was conducted between May 30 and June 10, based on an online survey of 1,058 U.S. businesses and business owners. No margin of error applies to the research.

With reports from Steven Chase

Laura Dawson with the Canada Institute says Canadian business leaders need to remind Main Street U.S. how important trade with Canada is to their economy
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