Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland says Canada will move forward towards ratifying the new NAFTA agreement with “all speed and alacrity” now that a deal has been struck with the U.S. to lift steel and aluminum tariffs.
Late last week, a deal was reached to end the 25 per cent steel and 10 per cent aluminum tariffs imposed by the U.S. on Canada almost exactly a year ago.
The tariffs were imposed on both Canadian and Mexican goods, causing significant friction during negotiations for the new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), known in Canada as CUSMA — presenting a potential barrier to its ratification.
As part of the deal announced on Friday, the U.S. agreed to lift the tariffs within two days, Canada agreed to lift the retaliatory tariffs on goods such as whiskey and washing machines, and both sides have agreed to halt litigation at the World Trade Organization.
WATCH: Freeland says Canada began the conversation on steel and aluminum ‘as soon as it was raised in the U.S.’ (June 19, 2018)
The news came days after Freeland had what she called a “good meeting” with United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington.
In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Freeland said it was a “great day for Canada.”
“I will say it is a great day for Canada, a great day for Canadian workers, and it’s a great day for the U.S., too,” she said. “Now we have free trade in steel and aluminum, and that is fantastic.”
When asked what the breakthrough moment was, Freeland said it was two-fold.
First, she said, “clarity” and “persistence” were essential.
“The most important thing, and this was the case also in the NAFTA negotiation, was a very united, very resolute team Canada approach,” she said. “Starting with the prime minister, including the cabinet, including the caucus, very much including our excellent labour unions, very much including the steel and aluminum companies with whom we spoke a lot and who were great and organized.”
“And all of us just kept on saying in, you know, a firm but polite way that the 232 tariffs had to be lifted, that, you know, they just didn’t belong between two countries, who in addition to being great national security partners, also now have a free trade agreement.”
Second, Freeland says, support from within the U.S. Senate and Congress helped Canada “tremendously” in having the tariffs removed.
Among those who supported the removal of the tariffs, she says, was chair of the U.S. senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley.
“He published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, I think it was 10 days ago, where he came out very clearly and said the new NAFTA will not pass the Senate while the tariffs are in place,” Freeland said. “And that was a very powerful message from inside the U.S. helped us tremendously.”
WATCH: Steady conversations led to end of steel, aluminum tariffs, Trudeau says
According to Freeland, a key turning point was April 19, when the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) published its report on the new NAFTA.
“That kind of set the clock going,” she said. “So, as they started moving towards the ratification, some of the new members of the U.S. Senate and Congress took a very strong position and said we will not ratify the new NAFTA while the 232 tariffs are still in place.”
Additionally, Freeland says Canada added pressure by refusing to move ahead towards ratifying the new NAFTA deal.
“Part of getting the 232 tariffs lifted was also saying on behalf of Canada that it would be tremendously difficult for us to pass the new NAFTA here, while the tariffs were still in place, and of course, that agreement can only come into force when it’s ratified by all three countries. So that was a form of pressure as well,” she said. “And to make those statements real, we did not put forward, not move ahead with passage of the new NAFTA in our own House of Commons and that was exactly the right thing to do, it helped us get to today’s great result.”
Now that the tariffs will be lifted, Freeland says the new NAFTA agreement is a “win-win-win” for Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
“We are very open to and looking forward to having some real debates about this new agreement. But I am very confident that there is broad agreement inside the country that this is a deal which is good for Canada,” she said.
— With files from The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson and Kerri Breen