'It's finally over': Hamilton breathes a sigh of relief at the end of U.S. steel tariffs

Hamilton steelworkers will enjoy the fireworks a little more this weekend knowing the U.S. is dropping its tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The tariffs sparked fear of job losses in Hamilton, but they'll be over in 2 days

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits Stelco in Hamilton to announce the end of American steel and aluminum tariffs. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton steelworkers will enjoy the fireworks a little more this weekend knowing the U.S. is dropping its tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger says steelworkers are entitled to "an extra beer or two" after news dropped that Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have negotiated to end the tariffs in two days.

The tariffs, which the Donald Trump government implemented nearly a year ago, caused anxiety at steelmakers like Stelco, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement Friday afternoon. Workers feared lost jobs and higher prices on steel products. It also prompted Ottawa to give $2 billion in assistance to the steel and aluminum industry.

"It's been a tough year of uncertainty," Trudeau told a crowd of steelworkers in the Stelco lunchroom. "You're going into the long weekend where your families will be able to know that the industry is in good shape, your jobs are in good shape, and we're moving in the right direction."

The news came in a hurry Friday, as politicians rushed to Stelco for the announcement. Eisenberger had just finished laser eye surgery and was supposed to stay home, away from dust and bright lights. He showed up at Stelco anyway.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces Canada and the U.S. have agreed to remove their steel and aluminum tariffs during a stop on May 17, 2019, at the Stelco plant in Hamilton, Ont. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Glen Norton, the city's director of economic development, said the tariffs put thousands of jobs at risk.

"This is the news our advanced manufacturing industry has been waiting for," Norton said in an email. 

"It's finally over."

Filomena Tassi, Minister of Seniors and Liberal MP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, said about 30,000 Hamilton jobs hinge on the steel industry. Most of her immediate family, including both parents, worked in steel.

While in the Stelco lunchroom waiting for Trudeau, she talked to a young steelworker.

Justin Trudeau talks to steelworkers at Stelco in Hamilton. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"She said, 'I was concerned that I may lose my job. I just started out at this place, and I had no idea,'" Tassi said.

"This is going to give a lot of reassurance and confidence to families here in Hamilton."

Canada is renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the U.S. and Mexico right now. The tariffs got in the way, Trudeau said.

Gary Howe, president of United Steelworkers Local 1005, said he thought the tariffs would be dropped by now. The union, steelworkers and steel companies have all been lobbying, he said. 

"We're still interested and concerned to look at the details of the monitoring safeguards to protect against offshore steel and imports," he said. But "it's a positive development we're seeing here today."

Mayor Fred Eisenberger showed up despite the fact that he just had laser eye surgery. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The Trump government implemented the tariffs — 25 per cent on imports of steel and 10 per cent on aluminum — last year, saying Canadian steel was a security risk. Canada implemented retaliatory tariffs, and has long argued the Trump-imposed tariffs were illegal. 

The deal also includes:

  • A monitoring system to watch out for any potential surges in the metals markets.
  • A commitment to stop the importation of aluminum and steel that is unfairly subsidized or sold at 'dumped' prices.
  • A promise to prevent the trans-shipment of aluminum and steel made outside of Canada or the United States to either country.

Trudeau on US lifting of steel and aluminum tarifs

5 years ago
Duration 1:58
Featured VideoPrime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters at the Stelco steel works in Hamilton Friday afternoon


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca