Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says the United States’ decision to reimpose a 10 per cent tariff on some Canadian aluminum products is “absurd” and vows that Canada will “respond swiftly and strongly” with retaliatory tariffs valued at C$3.6 billion.
“Let me be clear. Canadian aluminum is in no way a threat to U.S. national security, which remains the ostensible reason for this, and that is a ludicrous notion,” Freeland said in a news conference on Friday.
U.S. President Donald Trump made the announcement during an event in Ohio on Thursday, claiming the U.S. aluminum business “was being decimated by Canada.”
“Canada was taking advantage of us, as usual,” Trump said.
A statement released by the White House also cited national security concerns in explaining the Trump administration’s decision to restore the tariffs.
Freeland, however, emphasized Friday that the “first casualties” of the reimposed tariffs will be American workers and consumers.
“The United States has taken the absurd decision to harm its own people at a time when its economy is suffering the deepest crisis since the Great Depression,” Freeland said.
“In fact, the very washing machines manufactured at the Whirlpool plant where the president made his announcement yesterday will become more expensive for Americans and less competitive with machines produced elsewhere in the world.”
Freeland reiterated on Friday that Canada intends to impose “dollar-for-dollar countermeasures” in response to the “unwarranted” U.S. decision.
The government will first hold consultations over the next 30 days on aluminum and aluminum-containing products it’s looking to subject to retaliatory tariffs, she said.
“We will not escalate and we will not back down,” Freeland said.
A number of industry groups reacted swiftly to Trump’s tariff decision on Thursday, including the Canadian and U.S. chambers of commerce.
The tariffs are expected to come into effect on Aug. 16, Freeland confirmed Friday — but she said she hopes “common sense will prevail” before then.
She said a trade dispute is “the last thing anyone needs” when fighting the global coronavirus pandemic.
“It will only hurt the economic recovery on both sides of the border,” Freeland said.
Trump administration ‘most protectionist’ in U.S. history: Freeland
Asked by a journalist what the Trump administration’s decision on aluminum tariffs says about Canada’s relationship with the U.S., Freeland said she believes the announcement says “this U.S. administration is the most protectionist administration in U.S. history.”
“We have known that for a long time,” she said. “Canada has worked hard in the face of very protectionist policies from the U.S. to preserve our country’s privileged access to the U.S. market.
“The reality, though, is this is a protectionist administration.”
Freeland said she spoke “several times” Thursday with U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer — who Trump said advised him to reimpose the aluminum tariffs — and said “we are going to continue that dialogue.”
“We’re their number one trading partner in the world,” the premier said during a news conference.
Ford told reporters he’d heard the Americans are next planning tariffs on steel products imported from Canada.
Asked whether steel tariffs are on the way, Freeland responded: “My policy with this U.S. administration is ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst.'”
“We do need to be prepared for every eventuality.”
Liberals should have been better prepared, opposition argues
However, the opposition parties are arguing the government didn’t prepare quickly enough amid rumblings the U.S. was considering reimposing the aluminum tariffs.
“They knew this was coming. More than 30 days ago, they could have been proactive and putting together a list of items that they could put on that tariff list to be effective and deal with this relatively quickly,” said Randy Hoback, Conservative party critic for international trade.
The federal government posted a draft list of items online on Friday that will be subject to a consultation period before going into effect on Sept. 16. In addition to aluminum materials, the draft list includes items like household washing machines, bicycles, metal furniture and golf clubs.
“Our objective is … to inflict the minimal amount of damage on Canada and to have, frankly, the strongest possible impact on the United States,” Freeland said.
But after the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Hoback said Canada is more restricted now in what items it can put on that list than it was before.
“In previous trade battles with the U.S., we could go after Kentucky bourbon, Washington apples, California wine. Now we’re restricted to the aluminum sector,” he said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh argued the Liberal government could have “taken steps beforehand to protect manufacturing in Canada.”
“Knowing the volatility of President Trump, we should have been better prepared to invest in our Canadian market,” Singh said in an interview on the West Block scheduled to air Sunday.
“We should be prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the jobs.”
-With files from Global News’ Ryan Rocca and the West Block