Canada’s steel makers are pressing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to slap retaliatory tariffs on U.S. steel imports immediately rather than waiting until July 1 as planned.
Steel industry executives who met with Mr. Trudeau on Monday afternoon are also asking the Liberal government for safeguards − import restrictions − to prevent foreign steel diverted from the U.S. market from being redirected to Canada.
The prospect of speedy aid for this sector appears slim, however, despite vows from the Liberal government to provide support in the face of punitive U.S. import taxes.
U.S. President Donald Trump triggered a trade war last week when he imposed hefty tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union.
Canada promised retaliatory tariffs on a “dollar-for-dollar basis” that Ottawa said will take effect starting next month.
The Canadian steel industry does not want to wait that long.
Joseph Galimberti, president of the Canadian Steel Producers Association, said his industry wants Canada to levy commensurate taxes on U.S. imports as soon as possible.
“This is a dire situation for Canadian steel and Canadian employees,” he said.
“We’d like to have the tariff put in place as quickly as we can. The reality is there are [U.S.] tariffs on steel and aluminum going into the United States today. There are not tariffs on steel or aluminum coming from the United States today. We would like that relationship as balanced as we can get it,” Mr. Galimberti said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said on the weekend that the government is consulting with the provinces, companies and unions about support for steel and aluminum workers and firms affected by the Trump tariffs. The federal government has not indicated when it would unveil such a package.
At Monday’s meeting, the country’s steel producers did not ask for financial assistance.
Mr. Galimberti said his organization has not made a formal request for support and wants to take some time discussing it before aid is offered.
“We know there is a risk to employment, but I think we’d like some time to have a discussion with the government about what kind of support is appropriate,” he said. “To this point, we haven’t initiated this discussion.”
During Question Period on Parliament Hill on Monday, Mr. Trudeau gave no indication that he is prepared to speed up levying Canadian tariffs on U.S. steel, saying he wants to consult for 15 days first. “We think it is important that ... we make sure that what we are doing are the right things for Canadians, because we know these American motions are going to hurt workers in the United States. We would not want our decisions to hurt workers in Canada.”
Distribution of aid could be a challenge.
One executive in the steel service centre business said manufacturers and other companies in Canada that will pay the duty Ottawa imposes on their imports of U.S. steel should be part of any aid package, but Canadian steel mills should be excluded. Steel service centres buy steel from mills in North America and offshore and process it for users such as manufacturers.
The U.S. import taxes are 25 per cent on Canadian steel and 10 per cent on Canadian aluminum. They took effect on June 1.
The Quebec government said on Monday it is prepared to support smaller aluminum producers hurt by U.S. tariffs just as it did with the softwood lumber sector.
“If there is a risk of reducing their production or a risk of not being able to export as much, we will be there to support them in making sure that they maintain the jobs that they have in that sector,” Economic Development Minister Dominique Anglade told an aluminum summit.
“This is the approach we took with softwood lumber, we’ll be taking the same approach yet again this time with Quebec firms in aluminum.”
Canada last week said it would impose 25-per-cent tariffs on a slew of U.S. steel imports and a 10-per-cent tax on aluminum imports, as well as dozens of U.S. consumer goods from orange juice to sailboats to whisky.
Canada is the biggest foreign supplier of steel and aluminum to the United States. Canada’s steel makers send $7-billion in steel shipments there annually and employ 22,000 people.
Mr. Galimberti said foreign steel is already showing up here after the Trump administration levied a 25-per-cent tariff in March on shipments from countries other than Canada, Mexico and the European Union.
“We are seeing steel coming from destinations where the industry is frankly not used to seeing it,” the steel association president said. “[Places] like Egypt. Turkey is an active presence. It’s not necessarily China or the traditional sort of dumpers that you’d associate with negative behaviour. It has become .... a global [problem].”
Federal Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said he is having “intense conversations” with the steel industry on how Ottawa might help affected firms and workers.
He said any aid to the steel and aluminum industries would be “consistent with our international trade obligations” − meaning structured to reduce chances that the Americans could challenge it as a subsidy.
With a report from The Canadian Press