By MIKE BLANCHFIELD, ANDY BLATCHFORD
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Thursday, June 21, 2018
OTTAWA -- U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says Canada is not a national security threat to the United States and that a revitalized NAFTA could make the Trump administration's tariffs on steel and aluminum go away.
Mr. Ross also acknowledged Wednesday that the United States doesn't have a trade deficit on steel with Canada. In fact, he said it has a surplus with its northern neighbour in terms of dollar value.
Mr. Ross made the comments in Washington to a U.S. Senate committee that's examining tariffs imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump on some of that country's closest partners, including Canada. The duties are based on the premise the countries are threats to American national security under the controversial Section 232 of U.S. trade law.
The remarks by Mr. Trump's point person on tariffs provided some encouragement for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Ms. Freeland said later on Wednesday that officials have been trying to convey the message to Washington that the trade balance on steel isn't tilted in Canada's favour and that it poses no national security threat to the United States.
"We think that is self-evident, and that is what we have been saying from the beginning," Ms.
Freeland said of the security issue before applauding Mr. Ross's observation on the trade balance.
"[It was] good to hear all of those comments from him."
Under a grilling by Republicans and Democrats, Mr. Ross heard concerns that looming retaliatory tariffs by allies, including Canada, Mexico and the European Union, would kill American jobs and drive up prices for consumers.
In one key exchange, Mr. Ross played down Mr.
Trump's national security rationale, and instead linked the tariffs to the unresolved renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement.
"The Canadian steel industry is not being accused of directly and individually being a security threat," Mr. Ross testified. "The national security implication is in the aggregate, all of the steel."
Mr. Ross said Canada and Mexico were initially exempted from the national security tariffs "pending negotiations of NAFTA over all."
"Unfortunately, those talks were not able to come to a conclusion," he said. "Our objective is to have a revitalized NAFTA, a NAFTA that helps America and, as part of that, the 232s would logically go away, both as it relates to Canada and as to Mexico."
The Trudeau government for the most part maintains there is no connection between the tariffs and NAFTA, but when asked Wednesday about a possible link, Ms. Freeland said such a question is best put to the White House.
Ms. Freeland reiterated her position that the tariffs, and Canada's response to them, are entirely separate from the NAFTA talks.
For his part, Mr. Ross said U.S.
trade representative Robert Lighthizer is optimistic NAFTA talks "could pick up steam" after Mexico's July 1 presidential election.
Throughout Mr. Ross's testimony on Wednesday, committee members criticized Mr. Trump's tariffs. Democratic Senator Michael Bennett challenged Mr.
Ross to say whether the United States has a trade deficit with Canada on steel.
"We don't have a trade deficit of note [on steel]," Mr. Ross replied.
"We have a surplus in dollars; we do not have a surplus in physical value."