WASHINGTON — Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland ventured Wednesday into the heart of the U.S. Capitol, where she denounced the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs as absurd.
Freeland reiterated Canada’s opposition to the tariffs after meeting with the influential U.S. Senate foreign relations committee in Washington.
She was the first Canadian politician to set foot in the American capital after President Donald Trump and his emissaries launched unprecedented personal attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following the weekend G7 summit in Quebec.
The minister stayed above the fray on those attacks, but she did not hesitate to repeat Canada’s opposition to the tariffs in the bluntest of terms — in particular the use of section 232 of U.S. trade law to justify the action on national security grounds.
“The section 232 action — which is, let me remind people, a national security consideration — is frankly absurd,” Freeland said.
“The notion that Canadian steel and aluminum could pose a national security threat to the United States — I think Americans understand it’s simply not the case. That action is also illegal under the WTO and NAFTA rules.”
The majority of U.S. senators agree with that view, said the committee’s Republican chair, Sen. Bob Corker.
“I do think it’s an abuse of presidential authority to use the 232 waiver, and I’ve tried to pass a piece of legislation on the floor to counter that,” Corker said after the meeting with Freeland.
He is trying to gather support for legislation that would give U.S. Congress, not the president, the authority to impose tariffs under the national security clause of U.S. trade law.
Corker isn’t seeking re-election in this fall’s U.S. midterm elections and has railed against his fellow senators who are headed to the polls and worried about their electoral success for not standing up to Trump publicly.
Corker said there’s no question Trump has damaged relations with Canada, but he hoped cooler heads would prevail.
“Canada is not a country that we have trade issues with,” he said.
Canada and its allies plan to impose retaliatory duties by the end of the month on a broad range of consumer goods. The Trudeau government has proposed a $16.6-billion tariff package, in retaliation for the Trump administration’s decision to impose 25 per cent import duties on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum.
Freeland said Canada was responding in sorrow rather than anger but that the government would respond dollar-for-dollar to the U.S. tariffs.
Trudeau incurred Trump’s Twitter wrath when he reiterated Canada’s opposition to the tariffs at the end of the G7 summit.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told the Fox News business show “Varney ↕ Co.” on Wednesday that Canada’s approach following the weekend’s drama was to “stay calm, stay focused, carry on, build the relationship and make sure we’re defending Canadians’ rights and interests.”
Goodale said the U.S. has a trade surplus in steel with Canada. Despite the dispute over the tariffs, he said Canada still wants to make a deal to resolve the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Freeland was expected to give a major foreign policy speech later Wednesday.
On Thursday, she is expected to meet U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer in an effort to keep the NAFTA renegotiation on the rails.
Canada and the U.S. appear to be at an impasse over Trump’s insistence on a five-year sunset clause, something Trudeau himself said this past weekend was a non-starter.