May 25, 2018 4:05 pm

New U.S. automotive tariffs would only be ‘foolish’ if they included Canada: Unifor boss

WATCH: Unifor president says it's still unclear who would be affected by U.S. auto tariffs.

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A proposal to impose steep new tariffs on U.S. automotive imports is “absolutely foolish,” says the head of Canada’s largest private sector union — but only if those tariffs target Canada directly.

In an interview on this weekend’s edition of The West Block, Unifor president Jerry Dias said it’s still unclear exactly who would be affected by the potential duties.

WATCH: Trudeau says possible U.S. auto tariffs based on flimsy logic


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U.S. President Donald Trump again threw an unexpected wrench into the deadlocked NAFTA talks on Wednesday, threatening to impose tariffs of up to 25 per cent on imported vehicles. The move would be a death knell for the Canadian auto sector, experts suggest.

“He is a bizarre individual,” Dias said of Trump.

“(But) we really don’t know who he’s aiming at. He talks about Canada, he talks about Mexico, but if he’s talking about a 25 per cent tariff globally, that would hit Europe, the Asian market, Korea.”

If the president’s main issue is with the 4.5 million vehicles imported each year into Canada and the U.S. from those other countries, he said, “then I agree with him.”

“We are the number one most dumped markets in the world,” Dias argued. “We’re talking about countries that don’t play fair. We can’t ship anything (automotive) to Japan, we can’t ship anything to Korea, we ship very little to Europe. So if he’s talking about equalizing the trading relationship, well then there’s some sense to that. … We’ll have to see where the dust settles.”

READ MORE: Trudeau questions Trump’s logic on auto tariffs amid NAFTA talks

The White House is looking at using section 232 to make the automotive tariffs a reality, an obscure provision of U.S. trade law linked to national security (meanwhile, Canada’s exemption from similarly steep import duties on aluminum and steel is also set to expire next week).

“I would suggest we deal with the elephant in the room, which is the mass exodus of good auto jobs to Mexico,” Dias said. “To somehow tie us all in and paint us with the same brush is counterproductive and foolish.”

Talks far from over

On Thursday, Trump went so far as to call Canada and Mexico “spoiled” and said both countries were “very difficult to deal with” at the NAFTA negotiating table.

WATCH: Chrystia Freeland responds to Trump’s criticism of ‘spoiled’ Canada

Dias, who has been brought into the talks as a stakeholder, said that in spite of assurances from the Canadian government that negotiations are progressing, there’s a long road ahead. A deal won’t be coming before the Mexican presidential election in July, he predicted, calling some of the U.S. proposals (such as having all NAFTA disputes handled in U.S. courts) “foolishness.”

“There is no way that we can get this thing done in the short term,” he said.

— Watch the full interview with Unifor President Jerry Dias

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