“I think for Canadians, the 232 steel and aluminum tariffs from the outset have been of huge concern to our country. They are illegal, they are unjustified, and they are, frankly absurd,” Freeland told reporters outside of the U.S. State Department on Thursday.
“The notion that Canada could pose a national security threat to the United States in any way is really hard for us to fathom.”
Section 232 of the United States’ Trade Expansion Act lets the president impose duties on imported goods if the imports threaten U.S. national security.
WATCH: Trump says he got USMCA approved by putting tariffs on Canada
The United States imposed “Section 232” tariffs on steel and aluminum nearly a year ago to protect domestic producers on national security grounds. President Donald Trump asserted that the U.S. needs a domestic metals industry for national security reasons, so imports of steel and aluminum are a danger.
“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. “But our American partners, at moment, were quite explicit that that was the intention.”
Freeland argued that the use of the tariffs as a bargaining chip is unnecessary now that the deal is done.
“The deal is done, no more leverage is needed,” she 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. So for that reason, I think many Canadians have a really hard time understanding how we could take the final steps on NAFTA while these tariffs remain in place.”
The tariffs — 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum — have done damage on both sides of the border. Canadian lawmakers and U.S. industry groups alike have urged the Trump administration to remove the tariffs.
Freeland said she is “pleased” with the support Canada has received from American legislators regarding the removal of the tariffs.
Earlier this week, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted, calling for an end to the sanctions.
“I’m calling on the Administration — specifically, President Trump — to promptly remove Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada and Mexico. This will help clear the path for the U.S.M.C.A. agreement,” Grassley wrote.
WATCH: Government should not ratify USMCA until U.S. lifts tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports
Freeland says having the tariffs lifted remains a priority for Canada.
“I think it is a win-win for both of our countries, our very strong security allies to get these tariffs lifted and that is what we are working towards and that is what will happen,” she said.
In a tweet on Thursday morning, Trump said the new NAFTA deal was “moving along nicely.”
“Despite the unnecessary and destructive actions taken by the Fed, the Economy is looking very strong, the China and USMCA deals are moving along nicely, there is little or no Inflation, and USA optimism is very high!” Trump wrote.
Despite the unnecessary and destructive actions taken by the Fed, the Economy is looking very strong, the China and USMCA deals are moving along nicely, there is little or no Inflation, and USA optimism is very high!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 4, 2019
Freeland made the comments before a NATO meeting, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the alliance.
“Standing here in the U.S. State Department on, you know, a few minutes before the NATO meeting to celebrate the 70th anniversary of this great alliance I think underscores the absurdity of those 232 steel and aluminum tariffs,”she said. “For Canadians, that absurdity is cast and even starker relief by the fact that we now have a trade agreement.”
The new NAFTA has been signed, however, the deal has not yet been ratified.
WATCH: Freeland in DC pushing for U.S. tariffs to be removed
— With files from The Canadian Press