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Trudeau says Canadian countermeasures key to ending standoff with U.S. over steel, aluminum

The U.S. imposed import taxes on the metals a year ago as a pressure tactic when negotiations for a North American free-trade agreement got difficult

May 21, 2019   By The Canadian Press

The tariffs were in place nearly a year, raising costs in construction, among other industries

SEPT-ILES, Que.—Canada’s retaliatory tariffs on American goods played a key role in restoring free access to the U.S. market for Canadian steel and aluminum, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.

Trudeau was visiting an aluminum processor May 21 in Sept-Iles, Que., part of a victory lap after the United States lifted tariffs on Canadian metals late last week.

“I think one of the things that we saw very clearly, and the Americans learned, is that Canadians were going to stay firm,” Trudeau said at Aluminerie Alouette, in the town on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“We strategically put a significant number of American products and produce under tariffs and that had an impact on governors, on members of Congress, who continued to talk to the president and to members of the administration about lifting these tariffs.”

The U.S. imposed import taxes of 25 per cent on Canadian steel and 10 per cent on aluminum a year ago as a pressure tactic when negotiations on a new North American free-trade agreement got difficult. The duties have since heaped pressure on industries such as construction and auto manufacturing.

Canada responded by putting taxes on similar U.S. goods, but also on a range of other products — from cucumbers to coffee to whisky to playing cards to lawn mowers. In many cases, these were grown, processed or manufactured in districts represented by key American politicians.

Along with other industries, construction groups are cheering the end of the tariffs.

“This news will bring much needed relief to the construction industry, helping to restore business confidence and create stability in the marketplace,” Mary Van Buren, president of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA), said in a statement. She added that the tariffs disrupted supply chains and created uncertainty even as Canada spent billions on infrastructure.

The removal of the tariffs also paves the way for Canada, the United States and Mexico to ratify the new trade deal they signed last year.

“With the full lift of the steel and aluminum tariffs, the last major barrier against ratification has been taken away — on both sides, because it was also a barrier to the American ratification process,” Trudeau said. “(The agreement) is a good deal for Canadians, for workers, for businesses on both sides of the border.”

Time to ratify the new version of NAFTA is short, with just a few weeks left before the House of Commons breaks for the summer and a federal election scheduled for October.

Trudeau said he’s not worried that a closer relationship with the United States under President Donald Trump will make resolving tensions with China more difficult. The two economic giants are in a fight of their own, with Canada in the middle since the RCMP arrested an executive of China’s Huawei Technologies last December on a U.S. extradition warrant.

China responded by detaining two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor — and beginning to obstruct trade in Canadian products such as canola, soybeans and pork.

“I speak to global leaders who are all very concerned about some of the decisions and some of the positionings that China has taken recently,” said Trudeau, who was asked about reports that Canada has sent a parliamentary delegation to aid in securing the release of the two men.

“Canada obviously is in a difficult situation with China right now but we’re going to continue to hold strong, we’re going to continue to stand up for our values and principles. We’re going to put the safety and security of Canadians first and foremost, as we always do, and we’re going to work with our allies to ensure that China understands that Canada is going to stay strong.”


With files from On-Site staff.

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