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TORONTO-With solid support among Canadian business in general, the North American Free Trade Agreement has opened new marketing doors for major international players like Labatt Breweries and Spar Aerospace, and has given domestic wineries a competitive kick in the grapes.

For Labatt and Spar, Nafta is not just a deal to tear down tariffs.

"It's basically a mindset," said Cal Bricker, director of regulatory affairs for Labatt Breweries of Canada. "As opposed to thinking about your own domestic market, you start to think a lot more broadly about a consumer base that goes beyond Canada, or even beyond Canada and the United States to the Americas.

"We're talking about Chile, we're talking about a whole bunch of other places that could be involved in Nafta," he said. "And once that starts to happen you're talking about an almost hemispheric impulse that's going to drive trade."

Robin Taylor, Spar Aerospace director of international market development, told Advertising Age International that Nafta has helped the company build on its renown as the maker of the Canadarm, the maneuverable boom on NASA space shuttles.

Free trade, she said, "has been a real boon and makes doing business a lot easier when you've got operating units on both sides of the border. Both our Canadian and U.S. units are very glo- bally oriented; our markets are global rather than even North American."

Spar Aerospace, based in Mississauga, just west of Toronto, employs 2,500 at locations in Canada, the U.S., Indonesia, Italy, China, Thailand and the U.K.

Ms. Taylor said Spar was involved in the U.S. market before Nafta, under defense and other bilateral agreements between Canada and the U.S. to share technology and expertise. So, on the one hand, the coming of Nafta was really more of the same.

"On the other hand, free trade has had an impact if you look at the changes within the company over the last number of years."

She said Spar has "extensive holdings in the United States," including two companies in California-Comstream Corp. in San Diego, involved in satellite communications, and Astro Aerospace in Carpinteria.

"Where it makes economic sense, we have integrated operations between our Canadian and U.S. units. It has been a win-win situation in terms of transferring technology back and forth across the border," Ms. Taylor said.

At Labatt, President Hugo Powell rode what he called "the realities of a global economy" into Mexico a year ago. Canada's No. 2 brewer-Molson Breweries has a slight edge-bought a 22% stake in Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma, the brewing arm of Fomento Economico Mexicano, a partnership that, among other things, has led to bigger U.S. business.

Paul Smith, Labatt director of public relations and communication, said the two companies "have married our respective import companies in the United States and, together with the management of our domestic product in the U.S., Rolling Rock, we are now the No. 2 specialty brewing company in the U.S."

Along with Rolling Rock, brewed in Latrobe, Pa., brands include Labatt Blue from Canada, and Carta Blanca and Dos Equis from Mexico. And you can add Stella Artois, the best-known brand of Interbrew of Belgium, which recently acquired 100% ownership of Labatt.

"Now we're starting to get considerable size," Mr. Smith said, "and when you can bring a portfolio like we've got now to distributors in the U.S., you're able to leverage that for a greater presence. The larger you are, the larger the opportunities are. That's the nature of beer retailing and distribution in the United States."

Not every Canadian business has been overjoyed with Nafta, although a membership survey of the Canadian Manufacturers' Association showed that "71% see Nafta as more of an opportunity than a threat, 12% see it as more of a threat and 17% are undecided," said Greg MacDonald, director of public affairs and communications for the association.

For Ontario winemakers, Nafta hasn't made marketing any easier, but "we've been forced to get better at it," said Greg Berti, marketing director for Hillebrand Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Nafta and the previous Canada-U.S. free trade agreement, he explained, "sort of kick-started us."

Back in 1987, "I would have said, like everyone else, `It's the end of the earth, things are going to be different,' and they were and they are. What free trade did was to force the wine growers and wineries into making better wines through the use of better grapes."

Ontario wines are the biggest sellers in Canada, with France their No. 1 competitor, although, Mr. Berti said, "we have been gaining market share at their expense." California wines, while still trailing France, "have made enormous growth in Ontario since the free trade agreement, which not only gave them easier access but made us less competitive."

The Niagara region is the center for Canadian wines, although there is thriving production in the Windsor area near Detroit and in inland British Columbia.

Without free trade, Mr. Berti said, Ontario's wine industry "would have made a lot more money. We would have been protected by tariffs against the subsidies of other countries. I say we'd all be a lot richer, but I think we would be five years away from the stage [of marketing development] we are today. We needed a shove."M

6.6Labatt Breweries, Canada's No. 2 brewer, holds U.S. brand Rolling Rock, and Nafta allowed it to buy into a Mexico brewery as well.

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