OTTAWA — The “improper” American imposition of metals tariffs as leverage in the contentious NAFTA talks is no longer required because all three North American countries now have a deal, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says.
Freeland said Thursday the continued existence of the steel and aluminum duties makes ratifying the new continental trade pact unpalatable for many Canadians — remarks that cast further uncertainty over the fate of the new trade deal signed — but not yet ratified — by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico last fall.
Donald Trump unleashed a section of U.S. trade law — section 232 — that gives the president the authority to impose tariffs on national security grounds because he was frustrated by the slow pace of the talks.
Even though it was improper for the U.S. to use 232 as a bargaining chip, Freeland argued that’s now a moot point because all three countries have finished negotiating the deal.
“Now 232 was never meant to be a tool to be used as any kind of leverage. That would be a very improper use of it,” Freeland said in Washington on Thursday ahead of a NATO meeting. But she added that the Americans “were quite explicit that that was the intention” when they were imposed.
“How can that be relevant today when it comes to Canada? The deal is done. No more leverage is needed,” Freeland said.
“So both on the national security grounds and when it comes to the notion that there could be some sort of negotiating purpose served by 232, we really think this is groundless.”
The minister made the remarks at the U.S. State Department, where she was attending the 70th anniversary of the NATO transatlantic military alliance.
“Standing here in the U.S. State Department, a few minutes before the NATO meeting celebrating the 70th anniversary of this great alliance, I think underscores the absurdity of those 232 steel and aluminium tariffs,” Freeland said.
“For Canadians, that absurdity is cast in even starker relief by the fact that we now have a trade agreement.”
Freeland met with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday night, and officials said she brought the tariffs up in that conversation.
However, the discussion of tariffs did not warrant a mention in the readout of their conversation released Thursday by Pompeo’s office. The readout detailed a long list of pressing international security concerns from NATO burden sharing, to the imprisoned Canadians in China, the Venezuelan crisis, as well as Iran and North Korea.
Before departing Ottawa for Washington on Wednesday, Freeland said pushing the U.S. for tariff removal was a top of mind priority for she and her cabinet colleagues. Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Bill Blair, federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, pushed their U.S. counterparts on the issue in recent meetings.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press