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Report On Business Trudeau says Trump tariff plan ‘unacceptable’; urges exemption

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports by U.S. President Donald Trump are “absolutely unacceptable.”

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is making the case publicly on why Canada should be exempt from new protectionist tariffs announced by Donald Trump.

He says Canada is no threat to American steel or aluminum industries because it's a key military ally that forms part of the defence industrial base and buys more American steel than it sells to the United States.

Mr. Trudeau ticked off the reasons for exempting Canada Friday in comments to reporters following a visit to central Ontario.

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He offered statistics to support his argument, saying Canada buys billions of dollars more in steel from the United States than it ships to American buyers.

"The United States has a $2-billion surplus on steel with us," he said. "So we regard the imposition of any tariffs on steel or aluminum between our two countries as absolutely unacceptable." (Canadian officials have said the figure is U.S. dollars).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Donald Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports is 'unacceptable.' The Canadian Press

Part of the reason for Canada's steel purchases from the United States is Canadian auto makers buy large amounts of U.S.-made hot-rolled coil steel for their production lines, according to international trade lawyer Lawrence Herman.

Mr. Trump announced he intends to slap 25-per-cent tariffs on foreign steel imports and 10 per cent tariffs on foreign aluminum imports, citing national security requirements. His administration says this is necessary to assist in the construction of warships and tanks.

Details of the Trump tariffs have yet to be released and it's still unclear whether the United States intends to exempt Canada.

Mr. Trudeau did not answer a reporter's question Friday on whether Canada will be exempted from the tariffs. On Thursday after the tariffs were announced, Canadian officials were unable to say whether Canada has obtained an exemption.

The prime minister instead underlined how closely Canada co-operates with the United States, not only on supplying product for U.S. construction but also through the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

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"The level of co-operation and integration of our militaries, our defence of North America, and our working together on a broad range of security issues means that it makes no sense to highlight that Canadian steel or aluminum might be a security threat to the United States," the prime minister said.

He said he has previously made the case directly to Mr. Trump for an exemption from steel and aluminum tariffs.

Mr. Trudeau said his government will continue to press American government representatives on the matter.

Mr. Trump on Thursday fired the first shot in what could amount to a global trade war, announcing plans to slap hefty tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminum as a means of protecting American jobs.

The Canadian government was quick to threaten retaliation against the United States if steel and aluminum from Canada are included in the Trump trade action.

These measures could also exacerbate the already-strained renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement. In NAFTA talks, Canada and Mexico are fighting a series of protectionist demands from the Trump administration. The U.S. move threatens to overshadow those talks in Mexico City, which are in their seventh round since the United States notified its partners last year that it wants to renegotiate the deal.

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Despite the Canadian threat, The New York Times reported on Thursday that no countries will be exempted from the tariffs, made under the obscure national-security provisions of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act. That's different from 2002 when Canadian imports were exempted from temporary steel tariffs of 8 per cent to 30 per cent imposed by George W. Bush's administration.

The 28-member European Union quickly vowed to impose countermeasures on the United States.

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