Freeland renews push to remove steel, aluminum tariffs during Washington trip

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is bound for Washington to meet with Trump trade czar Robert Lighthizer in a renewed push to get punitive steel and aluminum tariffs lifted.

The meeting at the United States trade representative’s Washington office is to take place on Wednesday but Freeland will also venture to Capitol Hill for a meeting with the influential Republican chair of the Senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley.

“We continue to lobby very assertively for the lifting of the tariffs. We’re at a point where we need to do everything we can and talk to everyone we can about why we see these as unjust,” a senior government source said Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing dispute.

The meetings come after a pair of telephone calls on consecutive days late last week between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in which the controversial 25-per-cent duty on Canadian steel and 10-per-cent levy on aluminum was a major subject of conversation.

On Tuesday, Grassley suggested to reporters in a conference call that an end to the tariffs might be close. Last month, Grassley tweeted that Trump must remove the tariffs before the new North American trade deal can be ratified.

Trump imposed them in the first place using a section of U.S. trade law that gives the president powers to put duties on imports on national-security grounds.

Freeland, Trudeau and others in Canadian government have derided the tariffs as absurd, illegal and insulting.

But Freeland has said she’s heartened by the recent comments of both Republican and Democratic American lawmakers who say the new North American trade agreement that includes Mexico can’t be ratified with the “Section 232” tariffs in place.

“Comments like Grassley’s are indicative of a broader view held by many in Congress about the need to lift the tariffs before the new NAFTA ratifying legislation can move forward, particularly in the U.S.,” the source said Tuesday.

John Manley, a former Canadian foreign-affairs minister who was recently the head of the Business Council of Canada, said nothing is certain but uncertainty itself when it comes to dealing with the Trump administration, and that includes the possibility of the tariffs being lifted any time soon.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Manley said in an interview.

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