The head of Canada’s steelworkers’ union says the federal government should refuse to ratify the new North American trade deal until U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum have been lifted.
Ken Neumann told The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson that Ottawa needs to “draw a line in the sand” on the matter.
It’s been nearly a year since the Trump administration imposed a 25 per cent tariff on imports of steel from Canada and 10 per cent on aluminum.
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The measure prompted the Canadian government to impose $16.6 billion in retaliatory tariffs on American goods such as whiskey and washing machines.
Canada, the U.S., and Mexico spent more than a year renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the steel and aluminum tariffs were not resolved as part of the deal reached, known as the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA).
Neumann, the Canadian director for United Steelworkers, said last fall the union pushed the government not to sign CUSMA until the tariffs were removed but they went ahead anyway.
“The fact now is the tariffs just continue to linger, and there’s a tremendous amount of damage that’s being done across this country,” Neumann said. He pointed to job losses in Sault Ste. Marie, an eight-week work stoppage in Alberta and a $200-million aluminum project expansion in jeopardy in Quebec.
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Despite significant pressure from Canada, and some reassurances the tariffs would end, it hasn’t happened yet.
David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., said in late February that the tariffs would be lifted “in the next few weeks.”
Canadian ministers have suggested that the tariffs are a barrier to getting CUSMA formally ratified. They have stopped short, however, of refusing to put the deal to a vote in the House of Commons until the tariffs were lifted.
“The existence of these tariffs, for many Canadians, raises some serious questions about NAFTA ratification,” Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters last week in Washington.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau delivered a similar message to U.S. lawmakers last month.
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“I’m making a plea here to the governors,” Garneau told a free-trade panel during a meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington. “I’m making a plea here that you bring up with the president of the United States the fact that these tariffs are a serious impediment to us moving forward on what is the best trade deal in the world.”
Larry Kudlow, Donald Trump’s economic adviser, told Garneau: “We are hard at work on that to solve that issue.”
Canada’s steel and aluminum industries employed about 33,500 Canadians in 2017 and added $8.9 billion to the country’s gross domestic product, according to federal government figures.
— With files from Mercedes Stephenson and The Canadian Press