White House official says heavy’ talks underway to lift steel and aluminum tariff

WASHINGTON — A senior White House official said Sunday the optimism from Canada’s ambassador that the two countries will reach a deal on steel and aluminum tariffs is well founded.

On Thursday, Ambassador David MacNaughton told reporters he expected the two countries to reach a positive resolution on the tariffs within the “next few weeks.

“The spirit of what he says is right,” Larry Kudlow, President Donald Trump’s economic advisor, told reporters.

“Look we want this. We want this. And we want Canada with us, and we want Mexico with us. You got to understand we want this. We are unified.”

Kudlow struck the hopeful tone after speaking on a panel with Canada’s Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Jesús Seade, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for North America, at the National Governors’ Association annual winter meeting in Washington.

During the panel, Garneau pointedly called for the tariffs to be lifted and said they could jeopardize the new NAFTA deal if they’re not.

“We want to ratify the USMCA, but we have a serious challenge in Canada,” he said.

Canada has been lobbying hard for the Trump administration to lift the tariffs — 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum —since they were imposed last June. In response to the tariffs, Canada imposed retaliatory tariffs to pressure the White House to back down, targeting steel and aluminum imports, as well as a variety of items like yogurt and bourbon.

Garneau told the high-profile crowd he is making a “plea” to them to raise the issue with the president.

“Those tariffs are an unnecessary tax which is weighing down on both countries,” he said. “So, I would be remiss if I did not say that this will present us with real challenges as we begin the process of ratification in Canada.”

In a warning that stopped short of promising to hold up the USMCA ratification until the tariffs are gone, he added: “I don’t know if we’re going to get there.”

In response to the pointed remarks, Kudlow told Garneau: “I got the message, minister. I got the message loud and clear.”

He also took no offence, despite Garneau calling the tariffs “frankly illogical” and an “unnecessary tax.” After the panel, Kudlow told reporters he thought he would get a much rougher ride.

“You heard those guys … they were great to me. I thought they were going to start pounding the hell out of me,” he said.

With a majority government in Canada, the process to ratify the trade deal is fairly straightforward, but the path to ratification in the U.S. is much more complicated.

The Democrat-controlled House has to approve the deal — and the party is loath to give Trump a win.

Kudlow said the tariffs Trump imposed on Canada and Mexico are part of the negotiations with Congress to pass the deal. He said there are “heavy discussions” underway, not just with negotiators from the other two countries, but also with Congressional leaders.

In the negotiations to resolve the tariff spat last fall, the United States had proposed quotas on steel and aluminum tariffs as a replacement. At the time, the Canadian Press quoted a confidential source saying the quota proposal was “ridiculous” and Canada wouldn’t accept it.

Kudlow wouldn’t confirm whether they are still part of the tariff talks.

“When the transportation minister mentioned it 13 times in our meeting, I acknowledged that he’s correct and we’re working on it,” he said.