Utah already exports more to Canada than any Rocky Mountain state and stands to benefit from a free-trade agreement that likely soon will be approved as a result of this week's Canadian elections.
However, the agreement may be bad news for southern Utah, where about 200 people could lose their jobs because of increased competition in the uranium mining industry, officials said Tuesday.Canadians returned conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to office Monday - a good sign the trade agreement soon will be approved. Mulroney has promised to seek approval from Canadian lawmakers. The agreement eventually would eliminate all tariffs and restrictions between the countries.
The U.S. Congress already has approved the agreement.
Utah exported $293.5 million worth of commodities to Canada in 1986, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The exports included precious metals, computers, phosphate rock, telecommunications equipment and oil and gas mining machinery.
Utah imported $105.8 million from Canada that year, buying things such as live animals, aircraft engines and parts, newsprint paper, chemicals and excavating and mining machinery.
But southern Utah's uranium mining industry already has been hard hit by Canadian competition, and officials in San Juan County believe the free-trade agreement could completely shut down the state's operations.
"Uranium is virtually dead anyway because of how Canada has subsidized its industry," said Cal Black, San Juan County commissioner. "The mill will probably shut down now."
Black said such a closure would cost about 200 people their jobs. "In a town of about 3,000, well, you figure it out," he said. "That would be like losing 40,000 or 50,000 jobs along the Wasatch Front."
San Juan County, already economically depressed, can do little on its own to rebound, he said. "Not as long as our country continues to look after others before it looks after its own."
However, the rest of Utah appears to be happy about the agreement.
"It will open Canada more to what Utah produces, and visa versa," said Gregory Gullett, international trade executive with the state's Division of Economic Development. "Electronics and high-tech industries will especially benefit from the agreement."
The Commerce Department report said Utah consumers and manufacturers will benefit from lower prices and a greater selection of products when the United States and Canada drop trade restrictions.
Canadian companies already have invested $518 million in Utah, according to the report. Supporters of the agreement say it will encourage more investments.
"I think the agreement's in the whole country's best interest," Gullett said.
The Department of Commerce said thousands of Utah jobs are directly related to trade with Canada and that number is expected to increase as trade improves.
The agreement is opposed by Canada's Liberal and New Democratic parties, who argue it will make Canada beholden to the United States.