OTTAWA: The largest private sector union in Canada on Friday called on this country to walk away from continental trade talks in protest if Washington slaps tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.
At the same time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned that the proposed US levies would cause significant pain on both sides of the border.
“If Canada fails to obtain an exemption from unjust and punitive tariffs on steel and aluminium exports to the US, then the Canadian government has no choice but to withdraw from NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) renegotiations,” Unifor said in a statement.
The union represents tens of thousands of workers in the automotive manufacturing, steel and aluminium sectors across Canada.
“It’s clear the US is using tariffs as a trade weapon,” said Unifor’s Renaud Gagne. “It’s no accident that these duties were announced while NAFTA talks are underway.
“The federal government must stand and fight, here and now, against this threat by the US government and supporting stakeholders,” he said.
Ottawa did not directly respond to Unifor’s call, but Trudeau said that “The United States has a $2 billion surplus on steel with us, so we regard the imposition of any tariffs on steel and aluminium between our two countries as absolutely unacceptable.”
Due to the high level of integration of the Canada-US steel industries, he added, “these proposals are going to hurt them every bit as much as they will hurt us.”
US President Donald Trump’s sudden announcement on Thursday that his administration plans to impose duties of 25 and 10 percent on imports of steel and aluminium, respectively, comes as the seventh round of talks aimed at revamping NAFTA is underway in Mexico.
It also follows recent US trade attacks on other major Canadian sectors including forestry and aircraft manufacturing.
Despite the latest salvo, a senior Canadian official said NAFTA discussions “over the last four days have actually been very productive and a whole bunch of chapters in NAFTA have been closed.”