Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the challenges of cheap global steel and foreign dumping cited by U.S. President Donald Trump as the basis for steep new tariffs announced two weeks ago are real and that Canada faces them too.
He also suggested Canada is no longer willing to walk away from negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He had previously stated he would do so if a deal was not in the interests of Canadians.
Following a meeting with aluminum producers in Sagueney, Que., Trudeau also said on Monday that securing a temporary exemption to the new tariffs took a “Team Canada” approach and that the government will continue to fight to secure a permanent exemption for producers from the tariffs.
Trump slapped a 25 per cent tariff on foreign steel and a 10 per cent one on aluminum last week and characterized the practice by countries like China of dumping their excess steel in other countries at below-market costs as a threat to national security.
Trudeau said Canada shares those concerns and wants to work with the U.S. to prevent dumping by China that could threaten North American jobs.
“Canada is already extremely active in preventing the arrival of dumped steel or aluminum from the global markets, specifically China, onto our territory,” he said.
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“This is something we take very seriously because it does come and directly impact Canadian workers and industry. As I said to the president, I’m happy to work with him to ensure diversion or other ways of getting lower cost material onto Canadian soil is prevented in every way we can. It’s something all allies need to work together on.”
The current exemption for Canada and Mexico from the tariffs is temporary.
Trump has said the decision over whether to make that exemption permanent will hinge on whether both countries capitulate to his demands in renegotiations of (NAFTA).
A seventh round of discussions wrapped up last week in Mexico.
Trudeau, as well as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, have repeatedly said that it is wrong to link the two issues and that doing so will not lead to a more favourable outcome of discussions for Trump.
He also said in a town hall in February that Canada would be willing to walk away from discussions on NAFTA is a good deal cannot be reached.
“Canada is willing to walk away from NAFTA if the United States proposes a bad deal,” he said to Canadians gathered in B.C.
But when pressed whether that was still the case during an interview with American TV network CNBC following his speech on Monday, Trudeau did not say.
“We’ve never been willing to walk away,” he said. “We’ve always been willing to sit down and work meaningfully and constructively at the table. We’ve also said it has to be a good deal for Canada if we’re going to sign on but we have to work until we get to that deal.”
Trudeau said progress has been made on closing several chapters of discussion recently, noting negotiators will “put the pedal to the metal” in upcoming weeks.
“It’s so clear that there is a positive outcome for all three of our countries at the end of this,” he said. “I am confident we’re going to meet it.”