North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Background Information

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect on January 1, 1994, creating the largest free trade region in the world at that time, generating economic growth and helping to raise the standard of living for the people of all three member countries. By strengthening the rules and procedures governing trade and investment, the NAFTA has proven to be a solid foundation for building Canada’s prosperity and has set a valuable example of the benefits of trade liberalization for the rest of the world.


In 2015, total trilateral merchandise trade, as measured by the total of each country’s imports from its other two NAFTA partners, amounted to over USD $1.0 trillion – more than a threefold increase since 1993. In 2015, NAFTA partners represented 28% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) with less than 7% of the world’s population. Since the implementation of NAFTA, the North American economy has expanded, with the combined GDP for Canada, the U.S. and Mexico reaching USD $20.7 trillion in 2015. Canadian merchandise exports to the United States grew at an annualized rate of almost 4.6 percent between 1993 and 2015. Canada’s bilateral merchandise trade with Mexico nearly reached CA$37.8 billion in 2015. Some 78 percent of Canada’s total merchandise exports were destined to our NAFTA partners in 2015. Total merchandise trade between Canada and the United States more than doubled between 1993 and 2015. Trade between Canada and Mexico has increased over 8-fold over the same period.

Canada-U.S. trade in goods and services in 2015 reached close to CA$881 billion. Canada is the second-largest market for U.S. services exports with Canada-U.S. services trade nearly reaching over CA$122.8 billion in 2015, a 205.1 percent increase since 1993. The United States was the number one destination for Canadian merchandise exports in 2015, and was Canada’s largest supplier of merchandise imports. Canada is the main foreign supplier of energy to United States (Mexico is 4th), and was the largest cumulative source of foreign direct investment (FDI) into the United States.

Between 1993 and 2015, Mexico-Canada merchandise trade grew 8-fold to almost CA$37.8 billion in 2015, showing an average annual growth rate of 10.1 percent. Services trade between Canada and Mexico has increased six-fold during the NAFTA period, to nearly $3.9 billion in 2015. In 2015, Mexico was Canada’s 3rd largest trade partner and was Canada’s 3rd largest supplier and 5th largest export market for merchandise trade.

The enhanced economic activity and production in the region have contributed to the creation of jobs for Canadians with one in six jobs in Canada related to exports. With the addition of nearly 5.2 million net new jobs during the period from 1993-2015, Canada’s unemployment rate has decreased from 11.4 percent (1993) to 6.9 percent (2015).


The NAFTA’s provisions ensure greater certainty and stability for investment decisions and have contributed to enhancing Canada’s attractiveness for foreign investors while providing more opportunities for Canadians to invest in NAFTA partners’ economies.

At the end of 2015, the stock of direct investment in Canada from the United States was CA$387.7 billion, while Canada has invested CA$463.3 billion in our NAFTA partners. Canada and the U.S. have one of the world’s largest investment relationships with a bilateral investment stock totalling almost CA$836.2 billion in 2015. The stock of Canadian direct investment in Mexico has increased dramatically since NAFTA entered into force, reaching CA$14.8 billion in 2015, up from only $530 million in 1993.


North America is home to approximately 477 million people, representing over one quarter of the world’s economy. Our integration helps maximize our capabilities, making our economies more innovative and competitive, creating a North America where Canadian, American and Mexican companies do more than sell things to each other – now, our companies increasingly make things together.


NAFTA has benefited North American businesses through increased export opportunities resulting from lower tariffs, predictable rules, and reductions in technical barriers to trade. Along with increasing exports and imports, firms have become more specialized and thus more competitive, allowing for them to make things together for customers within and beyond the NAFTA region.

For Canadians, it is important that trade and investment liberalization proceed hand in hand with efforts to protect the environment and improve working conditions. Under NAFTA, our three countries have also been able to introduce parallel environmental and labour cooperation agreements.

Through the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), the three partners agreed to promote the effective enforcement of environmental laws. Through the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC), the three partners agreed to work together to protect, enhance and enforce basic workers’ rights.

A strong, modern and flexible NAFTA is important for the continent to maintain its competitiveness in an increasingly complex and connected global marketplace. Canada and its NAFTA partners will continue to work together to reduce the costs of trading within the region and to improve the competitiveness of North America.

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