Politics

'Full steam ahead' on trade deal now that tariffs are lifted, Freeland says

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says the government is going "full steam ahead" with ratifying the new NAFTA trade deal now that metal tariffs are out of the way. 

Foreign affairs minister credits U.S. Senator Grassley with the breakthrough moment

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to reporters after her meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says the government is going "full steam ahead" with ratifying the new NAFTA trade deal now that metal tariffs are out of the way. 

Canada and the U.S. reached an agreement on Friday to end the reciprocal tariff war that has been raging for almost a year. 

The tariff deal lifts the levies the U.S. imposed last June citing national security — 25 per cent on imports of steel and 10 per cent on aluminum — as well as Canada's retaliatory tariffs on steel, aluminum and other products.

Canada has maintained the tariffs are illegal and the government agreed to end its legal challenge against the U.S. at the World Trade Organization.

That clears the way to pass the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) to maintain free trade among the three countries.

"Our government now intends to move forward with the ratification," Freeland told host Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House, though she refused to give an exact date the legislation would be tabled in Parliament. 

The Liberal government had been cagey about plans to proceed with implementing the CUSMA deal while the duties were still in place. 

"We were very clear that as long as the [Section] 232 tariffs were there it would be very hard for us to move forward with ratification," she said.

Freeland still worried about U.S. protectionism

The prime minister called the deal "pure good news" when asked if Canada made any concessions to the Americans. 

"We stayed strong because that's what workers were asking for, but also that's what Canadians were saying," Trudeau said.

Just because Canada can breathe easy on steel and aluminum tariffs for now, doesn't mean the foreign affairs minister believes the protectionist threat is over.

Freeland said "of course" U.S. protectionism is still a threat, and it's "naive" to think there is any permanent safety and security when dealing with the Trump administration. 

"Eternal vigilance is required."

WATCH: Canada and U.S. reach long awaited tariff truce 

The nearly year-long tariff spat between Canada and the U.S. is almost over. The Canadian government released a statement saying the two sides have agreed to eliminate the tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum and on several U.S. products. 2:34

While the prime minister didn't point to a single eureka moment, Freeland said she believes an opinion article written by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley — a Republican — tipped the scales in Canada's favour.

Grassley made clear that the U.S. Senate would not ratify CUSMA until the Section 232 tariffs evaporated. Freeland said she was so happy, she printed out the article and gave copies to each of her cabinet colleagues. 

The tariffs are coming off, but it doesn't mean the new CUSMA deal has an easy road ahead.

The path through Parliament

The Liberals are working with an shortening timeline, as Parliament is scheduled to break for the summer in June — so Freeland is calling on members of all stripes to support the deal.

However, leaning across the aisle for help is never an easy task. 

"I don't see this getting through our House of Commons before the election," the NDP's trade critic Tracey Ramsey said, citing the difficult journey to ratification in the U.S.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are hesitant to ratify the deal until there are clearer provisions laid out about how the agreed-upon labour and environmental regulations would be enforced. 

"I think it'll be a grave mistake for the Liberals to try to jam this through Canada before we see the improvements that can be made by House Democrats in the states," Ramsey concluded.

The Conservatives are also still critical of the government's handling of this trade deal. 

Leader Andrew Scheer said Friday that the metal tariffs should have been removed a long time ago. 

"Today's announcement is good news for Canadian businesses and workers, but Justin Trudeau once again signed an agreement that leaves Canadian businesses and workers at risk," a statement from the party said. 

That risk is the vague section of the agreement that says the U.S. can reimpose tariffs if imports "surge" beyond historical levels. 

WATCH: Do trade tariffs work? 

U.S. President Donald Trump is a big believer in weaponized tariffs. But as the dust settles on a trade dispute between Canada and the U.S., a question arises: do they really work? 1:39

Not even Freeland could explain exactly what that meant, though she said that specific language was clearly intentional. 

If the other parties won't co-operate, it could stall the new trade deal. 

While the federal cabinet ratifies trade treaties, it does so only after implementation legislation has passed in Parliament, readying Canadian laws and regulations to comply with the new terms.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.