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Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Friday the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute is distracting from talks aimed at solving the steel tariffs issue between Canada and its largest trading partner.

The U.S. preoccupation with China row puts “multiple challenges on their plate,” Morneau said at an event in Montreal. “That means we’ve got a challenge in getting this focused on in the near term,” he said.

Morneau said his office is in contact daily with U.S. officials as well as metal producers and purchasers.

U.S. President Donald Trump slapped tariffs of 25 per cent and 10 per cent on steel and aluminum imports, respectively, from Canada in May, prompting retaliatory tariffs by Canada on $16.6-billion worth of U.S. goods.

Meanwhile, American tariffs against China have triggered a tit-for-tat trade war affecting hundreds of billions of dollars in goods over the past year.

Despite a 90-day ceasefire announced Thursday in which the two countries agreed to suspend tariff hikes and work toward a resolution, the Dec. 1 arrest of Chinese telecom Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer by Canadian authorities at the request of the U.S. Justice Department threatens to sour negotiations with Beijing.

Morneau’s remarks came at a separate event just hours after the first ministers’ conference kicked off two blocks away in downtown Montreal. Premiers Doug Ford and Francois Legault of Ontario and Quebec have said they plan to bring up concerns over tariffs, particularly in relation to the automotive and aerospace industries.

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