By Barry Ellsworth
Prime Minster Justin Trudeau is touring steel mills Tuesday to reassure workers he will fight U.S. tariffs that could impinge on their jobs.
Meanwhile, U.S. demands during renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are also a worry for the Trudeau government, although the prime minister heard some reassuring words when he talked to U.S. President Donald Trump by telephone Monday.
Trudeau said Trump urged a quick deal on the NAFTA talks that have dragged on since last August and an eighth round of discussions are slated for Washington at an as-yet unannounced date.
The prime minister told U.S. media during one of his television interviews with American media Monday that Canada has the same goal as Trump.
“We recognize that the American side is eager to get forward motion on NAFTA,” he said. “We are, too. So we’re glad to do it.”
A major sticking point in negotiations, however, is the demand by the U.S. for a large increase in the amount of American-made components in vehicles, something that would hurt Canadian and Mexican manufacturing.
A White House statement of the telephone call between the two leaders implied an acceleration of the talks is essential.
“President Trump emphasized the importance of quickly concluding the ongoing NAFTA negotiations,” it said. “(That would) ensure the vitality of United States and North American manufacturing industries (as well as) protect the economic and national security of the United States.”
To help get things moving, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will head this week for the U.S. for three days for meetings with U.S. Trade Representative and NAFTA negotiator Robert Lighthizer and prominent members of Congress.
The Americans want a new deal between the three NAFTA signatories, Mexico is the other partner, by spring, long before U.S. congressional elections in the fall.
Trump has indicated exemptions for Canada and Mexico of tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum might depend on wrapping up NAFTA quickly.
But Canada’s position is that the two are separate.
“We don’t link together the tariffs and the negotiations with NAFTA,” Trudeau told another American media outlet.
Canada is the largest foreign supplier of steel and aluminum to the U.S.