Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says U.S. President Donald Trump has reassured him “a few times” that the U.S. would abandon its punishing tariffs on Canadian imports if the partners successfully renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trudeau made the comment Wednesday when asked by a reporter whether it is possible to reach a deal on NAFTA without addressing tariffs Trump imposed on steel and aluminum imports.
He was also asked if Ottawa needed a solid commitment from Washington that it won’t make good on its threats to impose duties or tariffs on Canadian auto exports.
Trump has used national security as justification for the tariffs, under Sec. 232 of U.S. trade law.
“One of the things in my many conversations with President Trump on the issue of 232 tariffs writ large and, indeed, specifically was his insistence that while if we renegotiate NAFTA, if we get to a NAFTA deal, there will be no need to worry about these other things,” Trudeau said in New York, following the United Nations General Assembly.
“That has been something that he has said a few times.”
Trudeau repeated that his government is looking for the right deal for Canada, which includes feeling confident that the path forward won’t include the “punitive tariffs that we consider are unjust.”
Earlier in the day, Trudeau’s envoy to the U.S. stressed that Ottawa won’t sign a deal that lacks a robust dispute settlement mechanism, nor will it join an agreement if it means Canada will still be subjected to American tariffs under the guise of national security.
David MacNaughton was also asked for his opinion — on a scale of one to 10 — whether Ottawa and Washington were likely to strike a new trade deal by a Sunday deadline been imposed by the White House.
MacNaughton’s assessment: “five.”
The ambassador made the comment at a Toronto event hosted by Politico, during which he fielded numerous questions about the state of the NAFTA negotiations.
“Look, it’s challenging,” said MacNaughton, who has been at the bargaining table alongside Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland during high-level talks in Washington.
“I think everybody knows what each other’s position is on all of the major issues and I think it’s really a question of whether or not the U.S. wants to have a deal.”
MacNaughton said Canada is “anxious” to strike an agreement to bring some certainty to the investment climate and to open the door for Ottawa to start working more closely with the Americans on some of the bigger issues that confront both countries.
“We’ll see where it goes, but so far it’s been tough,” he said. “It’s been long and exhausting, but I think we’ve narrowed the gap.”
On Tuesday, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer told a conference on the fringes of the General Assembly that the two sides had “still a far amount of distance” between them.
“There are a number of significant issues between us… I think Canada wants to do it, I know we want to do it, and we’ll see what happens. We’re sort of running out of time,” Lighthizer said.
The Canadian Press