The Current

Dropping tariffs on U.S. steel would be 'rotten negotiating strategy': Chrystia Freeland

From the evolving political crisis in Venezuela, to the diplomatic dispute between Ottawa and Beijing, and U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel, we talk to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland about the role Canada is playing on the world stage today.

Retaliatory tariffs are 'lose-lose' but 'right thing to do,' says foreign affairs minister

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland listens to questions during a cabinet meeting in Sherbrooke, Que. on Jan. 17. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

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Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has dismissed calls from the Ontario provincial government to drop steel tariffs levied against the U.S.

"I think that is a rotten negotiating strategy. Unilateral surrender tends not to produce great results," Freeland told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

The U.S. announced tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on imported aluminum last May. Canada moved quickly to impose retaliatory tariffs, but the federal Liberal government faced criticism last fall for signing a new North American trade pact, which includes the U.S., without securing any guarantees from Washington that it would lift the levies.

Freeland acknowledged that the retaliatory tariffs, imposed last July, were "lose-lose", but insisted they were "the right thing to do."

"When the U.S. imposed these illegal and unjustified tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, it was important for Canada to respond, and we did," she said.

On Monday, Ontario's Economic Development Minister Todd Smith said the tariffs are hurting industries and workers in both countries. He suggested that if Canada dropped its tariffs, the U.S. may follow suit.

Freeland pointed out that the federal government is pleading its case at the WTO and at NAFTA tribunals, and she believes this "is an argument that we are starting to win," she said.

"We do need to hang tough, and that is what we're going to do."

Canada must work to maintain a world of laws, Chrystia Freeland tells Anna Maria Tremonti. 1:47

Canada is also gaining U.S. allies on the issue, she said.​

She pointed to recent remarks from Kevin Brady, ranking Republican member of the Ways and Means Committee, and Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate finance committee.

"They have publicly come out in recent days and said they think that NAFTA should be ratified in the U.S. only with the fall dropping of tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum," Freeland said.

'I think what history shows is once a leader of an authoritarian regime discovers there are no alternatives, that is when you see democracy restored,' says Freeland. 14:13

The U.S. argued the tariffs it imposed were designed to address the world's overproduction of steel, and said Canada's steel exports were a threat to U.S. national security.

Freeland called that accusation "specious."

"What I think that we're explaining to our American partners is it just doesn't make sense," she said.

"It is frankly absurd to see Canada as a national security threat."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from The Canadian Press. Produced by Idella Sturino.

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