WASHINGTON—There are no current negotiations over U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. said on Thursday.
Noting that time is running out before Canada’s Parliament breaks in June for the federal election expected in October, Ambassador David MacNaughton said it was his view that Parliament would not ratify the new NAFTA agreement with the tariffs still in place.
But tariff negotiations are not occurring, MacNaughton told reporters after speaking at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event in Washington. Rather, he said, “conversations” have consisted simply of the two countries restating their views.
“We’re not in active negotiations at the present moment, but we need to get into active negotiations if we’re going to be able to resolve this,” he said.
MacNaughton sounded more optimistic in February, when he predicted the dispute would be resolved in “the next few weeks.” He joked about the prediction on Thursday, saying it had taken more weeks than he had thought.
If the tariffs are not lifted before June, Canada might not ratify the new NAFTA before late 2019 or early 2020, during the heat of the U.S. election primary season. MacNaughton said it was unlikely that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would bring Parliament back from the June break for a ratification vote before the election, although he said there was at least some possibility of this happening.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and other ministers had hinted that Canada would not hold a ratification vote before Trump abandoned the tariffs. MacNaughton’s statement was the most direct, although he framed it as his own analysis rather than a government position.
MacNaughton chided U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence for a Wednesday speech in which Pence urged Congress to quickly pass the new NAFTA, known by the Trump administration as the USMCA, but did not say anything about the tariffs, which even some senior Republicans say must be eliminated before Congress will move.
“The vice-president was in Detroit yesterday, said, you know, we need to get the USMCA dealt with, passed through Congress, passed in Canada, and then apparently after that happens they will take a serious look at the (Section) 232 tariffs. Well, that’s not a winning combination,” MacNaughton said.
He said Parliament would likely ratify the new NAFTA “fairly soon” after the Trump tariffs were lifted.
Canada wants the tariffs eliminated with no new protectionist measure imposed in their place. But Trump’s officials have said that the tariffs, which the president imposed on controversial “national security” grounds, would have to be replaced by something like a quota that would limit how much of the metals could be imported from Canada. MacNaughton said Canada cannot accept a “hard-cap” quota on its steel.
Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8