Canadian-American Reciprocity

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CANADIAN-AMERICAN RECIPROCITY, the mutual reduction of duties on trade between the United States and Canada, emerged as a significant issue in United States–Canadian relations in the late 1840s. When Britain withdrew imperial trade preferences in 1846, Canada naturally turned to the United States. However, lingering anti-British sentiment made it easy for northern protectionists and southern congressmen (who feared that reciprocity might induce Canada to join the United States as an anti-slave country) to defeat early proposals for an agreement.

The situation changed in 1852, when Canada restricted U.S. access to its east coast fisheries. Both Washington and London, anxious to avoid a confrontation, sought a comprehensive treaty that would resolve the reciprocity and fisheries issues. On 5 June 1854 Lord Elgin, Governor General of BNA, and William Marcy, U.S. Secretary of State, signed the Reciprocity Treaty, whose principal clauses guaranteed American fishermen access to Canadian waters and established free trade for products of "the land, mine and sea." It was approved by Congress in August.

The Treaty remained in force until March 1866, when it was abrogated by the United States in retaliation for Britain's pro-Confederate posture during the Civil War. Successive Canadian governments sought a renewed treaty but none succeeded until that of Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1911. The Reciprocity Agreement of 1911 provided for the free exchange of most natural products. It was approved by Congress but rejected in Canada, where many feared it would lead to annexation. With this rejection, reciprocity—free trade—ceased to be a prominent issue in Canadian-American relations until the 1970s.


Masters, Donald C. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1954. 2nd Edition. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1963.

Stacey, C.P. Canada and the Age of Conflict: A History of Canadian External Policies, Volume I: 1867–1921. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1977.


See alsoCanada, Relations with ; United States–Canada Free Trade Agreement (1988) .

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Canadian-American Reciprocity

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