European leaders attend the signing ceremony of a landmark treaty in Lisbon, Portugal, Dec. 13, 2007
European leaders attend the signing ceremony of a landmark treaty in Lisbon, Portugal, Dec. 13, 2007 - 
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Kai Ryssdal: Next time you want to impress somebody with arcane economic trivia, you could just happen to let it drop in a conversation that the biggest trading relationship the U.S. has with another country isn't with China or Japan. It's Canada -- almost a billion dollars a day.

If you lump all the European Union countries together, though, the E.U.'s the biggest, and the economic fate of that union could hinge on a vote tomorrow in Ireland.

From the European Desk in London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard explains.

Stephen Beard: Ireland is the only E.U. member state required by its constitution to hold this referendum. The vote is on the Lisbon Treaty, a measure designed to streamline the machinery of the E.U..

And boy, does it need streamlining, says analyst Graham Mather.

Graham Mather: It's rather like driving a 15-year-old car; the whole thing is beginning to collapse.

But the treaty is controversial. It's the second attempt at a new constitution that would unify Europe. Some Irish people fear it would force them to bring their tax rates into line with the rest of the E.U..

Phillip Whyte is with the Centre for European Reform:

Phillip Whyte: Ireland's economic success has largely been built on attracting foreign direct investment, primarily in the shape of U.S. companies. U.S. companies have partly been attracted to Ireland because Ireland has a low rate of corporation tax.

Supporters of the treaty say the Irish opponents are mistaken: it won't affect their tax rates, so U.S. companies based in Ireland need not worry either. In fact, claims Graham Mather, the U.S. would be better off if the Irish vote yes and the Lisbon Treaty comes into force.

Mather: Trade negotiations should be slightly easier. All sorts of policy discussions, whether they're on financial services regulation or avoiding global economic crises, all of those things should be easier and that would help the United States.

If the Irish say no, however, the Treaty cannot take effect and the E.U. will be plunged into disarray. Opinion polls show that tomorrow's vote could go either way.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.