The Canadian government is leading a multipronged effort to enlist U.S. politicians and businesses in a fight against punitive import taxes U.S. President Donald Trump has slapped on steel and aluminum from Canada.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will use a visit to Washington this week to meet with the U.S. Senate foreign affairs committee, chaired by Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, a staunch opponent of the steel and aluminum tariffs.
Ms. Freeland announced on Tuesday she is also trying to arrange a meeting with U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer, her counterpart in talks on the North American free-trade agreement, during this two-day trip to Washington. It has been two weeks since the White House stalled NAFTA renegotiations by insisting on an expiry date for any new NAFTA deal, and more than 12 days since the Trump administration imposed hefty tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum imports in the name of national security.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr will meet his counterpart, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, to talk trade on the margins of the Group of 20 energy ministers’ meeting in Argentina this week.
On Wednesday, Canada’s consul-general to New York, Phyllis Yaffe, will take to the floor of Pennsylvania's general assembly to talk up the benefits of unfettered commerce between Canada and the United States.
Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi visited North Dakota’s capital on Monday, where he warned local and state chambers of commerce of the harm the steel and aluminum tariffs would cause. “We should be removing barriers not creating barriers,” Mr. Sohi said.
On Friday, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay will host U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in Prince Edward Island. Mr. Perdue is considered one of the biggest supporters of NAFTA in the Trump administration.
Next week, International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne will meet in Detroit with the Big Three auto companies and other business leaders. A meeting with the Michigan Governor is “subject to scheduling,” a spokesman said.
Our position really since the U.S. election and certainly since the beginning of the NAFTA talks has been very consistent. From day one, we have said that we expected moments of drama and that we would remain – we would keep calm and carry on.— Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland
The effort to persuade the United States to relent comes even as Mr. Trump threatened on Tuesday to escalate the burgeoning trade war.
At a news conference in Singapore, Mr. Trump said Canada would pay for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to push back on U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs. After his meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, Mr. Trump said he was surprised last weekend when he watched Mr. Trudeau’s Group of Seven news conference on Air Force One and saw the Prime Minister vow to retaliate against the levies.
“He assumed I was in an airplane and I wasn’t watching. He learned,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s going to cost a lot of money for the people of Canada. He learned. You can’t do that.”
Ms. Freeland on Tuesday played down the barbs as the sort of “drama” she had expected during NAFTA talks.
“Our position really since the U.S. election and certainly since the beginning of the NAFTA talks has been very consistent,” she said in Ottawa. “From day one, we have said that we expected moments of drama and that we would remain – we would keep calm and carry on.”
Mr. Corker is a good ally for Ms. Freeland. Last week, he proposed legislation that would require Congress to approve any tariffs levied under U.S. trade law’s Section 232. That is the national security provision the President used to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico and the European Union, and to threaten further tariffs on cars and trucks.
Despite a free-trade consensus among congressional Republicans, Mr. Corker’s bill is the first concrete step the GOP has taken to try to rein in Mr. Trump. Other Republican members of Congress have been reluctant to support it and Mr. Trump has pushed Mr. Corker to withdraw the bill.
Mr. Corker on Tuesday accused other free-trade Republicans of fearing that defying Mr. Trump would cost them their re-election.
“’We might poke the bear. My gosh, if the President gets upset with us, we might not be in the majority,’” Mr. Corker mocked his GOP colleagues in a speech on the Senate floor.
If the bill passes, Mr. Trump could veto it, a move that could only be overridden with a two-thirds majority vote of Congress.
Mr. Corker, who invited Ms. Freeland to meet with the foreign relations committee on Wednesday, is not seeking re-election.
One Canadian chief executive in the manufacturing sector who is watching the trade battles said Canada needs to retaliate in part so U.S. consumers feel enough pain that they will rally against Mr. Trump and his administration so they will lift the duties.
Discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Trudeau are not going to resolve the disputes, the CEO said.
One of Mr. Trump’s trade advisers, meanwhile, apologized for saying on Sunday there was “a special place in hell” for Mr. Trudeau for opposing Mr. Trump in the trade fight.
“My job was to send a signal of strength,” Peter Navarro said at a conference in Washington on Tuesday. “The problem was that in conveying that message, I used language that was inappropriate and basically lost the power of that message. I own that. That was my mistake, my words.”
Mr. Navarro, a trade protectionist and economic nationalist, is one of the most hawkish figures in the Trump administration. His attack was part of one of the most vicious rhetorical broadsides the United States has ever fired at an ally.