Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains says it “boggles the mind” that U.S. President Donald Trump has suggested imports of Canadian steel and aluminum are a threat to American national security but noted Canada is willing to work with its southern neighbour on its concerns around foreign dumping.
Bains was in Montreal for meetings with aluminum stakeholder groups including Rio Tinto and ACOA on Thursday morning. He answered questions from reporters and stressed that the top priority for Canada remains the efforts to secure an exemption to steep new tariffs announced last week by Trump.
“Right now we’re looking for a very clear solution which is an exemption,” he said.
Those proposed tariffs, expected to be signed into law on Friday, could see a 25 per cent tax imposed on foreign steel and a 10 per cent tax on aluminum imported into the U.S. The announcement of the tariffs quickly roiled markets given the tight integration of industrial supply chains in Canada and the U.S. that rely on the use of steel and aluminum.
Trump has in the past pointed the finger at countries like China which have been accused in recent years of dumping steel and aluminum exports in other countries at below-market costs and flooding the global market.
While Bains did not single out China in particular, he said Canada recognizes the concerns Trump has raised about such actions.
“I do understand and recognize the issue the U.S. has raised with regards to overcapacity and dealing with some of the other actors on that issue,” Bains said.
“Canada, in my opinion, is not a concern but we’ll work with them on other issues like overcapacity because it’s important that we find solutions for them as well.”
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Both Canada and the U.S. are the largest markets for each other’s steel and aluminum exports, with reciprocal trade totalled at roughly $12 billion last year.
While Trump had initially boasted no country would be exempt from the new measures, that claim was walked back within days.
First, Trump said Canada and Mexico could get an exemption if they capitulated to his demands on the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
That came shortly after senior officials within his administration including House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan publicly questioned the tariffs and international organizations including the World Trade Organization warned the trade war such measures would likely spark could lead to a global recession.
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On Wednesday afternoon, he said blocs like the European Union could be excluded if they let in more American manufactured goods like automobiles.
Late Wednesday night, White House officials said Trump planned to offer a 30-day exclusion from the tariffs to Canada, Mexico and several other countries based on national security concerns.
Those exemptions could then be extended based on progress in NAFTA talks, officials said.