© 2024 KVNF Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Canada Responds To Tariffs


U.S. and Canada have been intertwined for the better part of a century with business and workers moving back and forth across the border. This week, the Trump administration imposed stiff tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel. And North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann is in Canada and has our story.


BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: This is Parliament Hill, the seat of Canada's national government in Ottawa. And for months, officials here have struggled to keep lines of communication open with Washington. They fought to keep this enormous trade relationship from going off the rails. But this week, in an emotional press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged it just didn't work.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: This decision by the U.S. administration will hurt Canadians. It will hurt Americans. And we regret that deeply.

MANN: He's talking about stiff penalties on Canadian steel and aluminum, which are used in cars and construction and thousands of other products across the U.S. The White House justified the tariffs using a clause that allows trading partners to protect industries vital to their national security. That sparked a fierce response from Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.


CHRYSTIA FREELAND: We need to be very clear exactly how absurd this U.S. action is.

MANN: Canadians point out they've been a close military ally, as, well as trading partner. In retaliation, Ottawa will impose tariffs on more than $16 billion worth of American products, everything from soup to dishwasher detergent. This kind of punch-counterpunch makes Canadians like Michael Seamen really nervous.

MICHAEL SEAMEN: This makes a lot more sense to be working together on this thing than to be fighting.

MANN: The U.S. is a vastly larger economy than Canada. And a full-blown trade war would be devastating here. But other Canadians say they're not scared. They're furious. Jim Graham from Cornwall, Ontario says he wants Canada's prime minister to keep punching back.

JIM GRAHAM: I'm impressed with Trudeau because at least he's staring them down. And I think that that's a very good, healthy thing for Canada.

MANN: On Friday, Canada challenged the U.S. tariffs in an appeal filed with the World Trade Organization. But speaking to reporters, President Trump signaled that tariffs are only a beginning. He said again he wants to scrap NAFTA completely, possibly replacing it with separate compacts hashed out with Canada and Mexico.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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. And it's not going to happen like that anymore.

MANN: Unraveling NAFTA would be risky and complicated, the kind of economic divorce that would make Brexit look easy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says the trade deal accounts for about 14 million American jobs. The U.S., Canada and Mexico held a series of talks through the winter aimed at reforming and modernizing NAFTA without shattering it entirely. Prime Minister Trudeau says he thought the countries were close enough to a compromise that he tried to arrange a trip to Washington last week.


TRUDEAU: There was the broad lines of a decent win-win-win deal on the table that I thought required that final deal-making moment.

MANN: But then it fell apart. Trudeau says the Trump team made a new demand insisting that any new NAFTA deal expire after only five years. Business leaders in the U.S. and Canada say that wouldn't offer the stability or predictability companies need. Trudeau says he's still open to talks with the White House. But he also predicted pressure to save NAFTA will grow within the U.S. Some Republican lawmakers have signaled they don't want a trade war with Canada. There is skepticism that a fight like this will bring back the mills and factories that once provided good American jobs in Rust Belt towns along the border. Brian Mann, NPR News, Ottawa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.