By Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — The United States was keeping the international community in suspense Monday, with steel and aluminum tariffs scheduled to snap into effect at midnight barring any new announcement.
Canada has particular reason to be watching closely: it’s the No. 1 supplier of both materials to the U.S.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he has repeatedly stressed to his American counterpart why tariffs on Canada would be an especially bad idea, given that U.S. military vehicles rely on metals from Canada, and private-sector supply chains also use materials that criss-cross the border.
”I’ve had many conversations with the president,” Trudeau told a news conference in Vancouver.
”He has assured me that he understands the depth of connection and the intertwined nature of the great jobs for middle-class Canadians and Americans back and forth across the border…
”We are optimistic that (the Americans) understand that this would be a bad thing for both of our economies.”
Tariffs were previously scheduled to hit weeks ago, but President Donald Trump issued orders delaying them for Canada and Mexico — and then for the entire world — until May 1.
Canada is hoping to win another exemption, along with Mexico, as all three countries continue their efforts to negotiate changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
A White House official says the only thing that could stop them now is a new presidential order.
“Absent any additional presidential proclamation, all tariffs would go into effect at midnight,” the official said. “So in order for the exemptions to be extended or made permanent, a new proclamation would have to come from us like the original ones did.”
Canada’s position is that neither tariffs — nor the alternative of quotas — makes economic, legal or military sense. Trump’s legal justification for such tariffs is that reliance on foreign metals threatens American national security.
But Canada has argued that it has been supplying metals to the U.S. military for generations, that its imports and exports of steel are balanced, and that it is working with the U.S. to keep over-produced Asian steel out of North America.
It’s also unclear how tariffs would affect the heavily integrated auto industry, where the same piece might criss-cross the border multiple times.
”There’s no jurisdiction on the planet that has a better case for a full exemption than Canada,” said Joseph Galimberti, president of the Canadian Steel Producers Association.
”We source our raw material from the U.S. We do extensive business with the U.S. We have comparable costs (on salaries). We are in no way, shape, or form unfair trade… There’s not a hint that we do anything along the lines of state subsidies… We have been their partner in addressing global overcapacity…
”I could go on and on and on.”
The last U.S. ambassador to Canada under Barack Obama said he regrets the uncertainty being caused by his country’s current trade policies.
Bruce Heyman blames much of the confusion over NAFTA and other issues on the fact that the Trump administration lacks substantive ideas for what it wants to achieve.
”I think it’s style over substance. I think they have grossly mismanaged U.S. trade policy,” Heyman said in an interview.
”In particular, bullying our allies in trying to force a victory of some type, makes no sense… It’s unfortunate. But it’s a manifestation of having no policy. Or no coherent policy. It’s just a lot of tactics. A lot of impulsive decisions, and threats, and bullying. It’s no way the world’s largest economy should be behaving.”
Heyman said he remains skeptical that a substantive NAFTA agreement is imminent. Some in the U.S. administration would like to reach a deal quickly, before the Mexican election and U.S. legislative midterms.