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Trudeau reaching out to steel, aluminum producers during 'ridiculous situation'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will work to protect Canadian steel and aluminum workers as it calls for an intervention by the WTO.

Freeland heads to Washington early next week, announces NAFTA and WTO litigation to fight the tariffs

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tours the Direct Strip Production Complex at Essar Steel Algoma in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in March. Trudeau says he's already reached out to Canadian steel and aluminum producers to talk about upcoming short-term challenges after the U.S. lifted Canada's tariff exemption. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today his government will work to protect Canadian steel and aluminum workers as the tariff tiff between Canada and the U.S. ramps up.

Trudeau said he's already reached out to Canadian steel and aluminum producers to talk about upcoming short-term challenges after the U.S. moved to impose 25 per cent tariffs on some foreign steel and 10 per cent on aluminum, citing national security reasons.

"I've assured them that we're going to be working with them to make sure that Canadian jobs are protected and that Canadian workers and communities continue to do OK despite these unnecessary and punitive actions from the United States," Trudeau told CBC Radio's Information Morning host Portia Clark during a stop in Halifax.

"This is obviously a ridiculous situation that the U.S. has tied national security concerns to trade of metals from Canada."

He didn't detail the measures his government is considering to help the industry.

In retaliation against the United States' tariff announcement, Canada has threatened to impose tariffs of up to $16.6 billion on some steel and aluminum products and other goods from the U.S. — including gherkins and condiments — beginning July 1.

Those tariffs were crafted to prompt U.S. exporters and their elected representatives to pressure the Trump administration into rethinking the tariffs.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Trudeau will bring that message to Americans directly on Sunday when they appear on influential U.S. Sunday political shows.

Trudeau is scheduled to appear on NBC's Meet the Press. In an excerpt of that interview released Friday, Trudeau repeated the message he delivered in Canada Thursday, telling host Chuck Todd that "the idea that we are somehow a national security threat to the United States is quite frankly insulting and unacceptable."

When Todd asked why he thought Trump imposed the tariffs, Trudeau replied: "I don't know."

Freeland is scheduled to appear on CNN's State of the Union with Jake Tapper

Freeland announced today that Canada is filing a request for a North American Free Trade Agreement dispute resolution panel to address the tariffs and plans to work "closely" with the European Union as it fights the tariffs through the World Trade Organization.

"These unilateral tariffs, imposed under a false pretext of safeguarding U.S. national security, are inconsistent with the United States' international trade obligations and WTO rules," she said in a press release.

This war of tariffs and threats is escalating as Canada, Mexico and the U.S. continue the slog to finalize an updated NAFTA deal.

Trump pushes for 2 separate deals

U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, returned to a familiar talking point Friday — his desire to get rid of the decades-old NAFTA deal altogether.

"I wouldn't mind seeing a separate deal with Canada, where you have one type of product, so to speak, and a separate deal with Mexico," the president told reporters outside the White House.

"These are two very different countries. It's been a lousy deal for the United States from day one. We lose a lot of money with Canada and we lose a fortune with Mexico."

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross pointed to the sputtering negotiations as a reason for not extending a reprieve on steel and aluminum duties for its North American allies.

U.S. President Donald Trump says he would prefer to scrap NAFTA and have direct deals with Canada and Mexico on trade. 0:43

Trudeau said Thursday's tariff announcement marks "a bit of a turning point, but we've always known that this administration is unpredictable."

"In the coming weeks we're actually going to see hardship happening on both sides, well, particularly on the American side of the border," said Trudeau, who was in Halifax to speak to the annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Despite the gloomy clouds gathering overhead, Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto renewed their commitment to finalizing a NAFTA deal during a Thursday phone call.

"The leaders expressed their strong concerns and deep disappointment with the imposition of U.S. tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum exports," Trudeau's office said in a summary of the phone call with the Mexican leader.

"They also discussed the North American Free Trade negotiations and agreed to continue working toward a mutually beneficial outcome."

'I would say no, not yet,' says Andrew Leslie, but Randy Hoback and Tracy Ramsey aren't so sure. 11:56

Freeland is heading to Washington Monday for meetings at the Organization of American States and will also hold trade-related meetings, according to her office.

Canada is challenging the United States' tariffs at the World Trade Organization and under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Freeland said the government brought its cases forward on Friday.

"This is a moment when it is important for us to be clear and firm," she told reporters on Parliament Hill.

While the Conservative Party has said it would support a united front while discussing NAFTA down south, party leader Andrew Scheer blamed Trudeau for the tariffs.

"Trudeau promised workers in Quebec, Ontario, and Saskatchewan that he had resolved this issue. The Canadian steel and aluminum industry is now facing massive new tariffs. It is clear that the prime minister failed," he posted on Facebook.

Conservative Saskatchewan MP Randy Hoback told CBC News Network's Power & Politics that solidarity with the federal government is there when it comes to improving the lives of working men and women, but that his party had issues with the way Trudeau approached the NAFTA talks.

"What we're concerned about is some of the actions the prime minister himself has taken," Hoback told guest host Catherine Cullen. "We've done our job, we've educated the governors, we've worked together, we've educated members of the House (of Representatives), the (U.S.) Senate.

"[Trudeau] was responsible for educating the White House. That hasn't happened. That has not happened."

Hoback said Trudeau's insistence on including a progressive agenda in the trade deal was not well received south of the border.

"There's things that [Trudeau has] added into this agreement that weren't necessary to be part of the agreement that made it more complicated," he said. "There's things he's done, on the ground, in the U.S. that actually made things tough to deal with when working with President Trump."

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to reporters as she arrived for question period Friday. 0:41

With files from the CBC's Katie Simpson and Peter Zimonjic

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