May 18, 2019 / 2:54 PM / 2 months ago

Canada vows 'full steam ahead' on ratifying trade pact after U.S. lifts metals tariffs

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will move quickly to ratify the new North American trade pact, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Saturday, a day after the United States agreed to lift tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland takes part in a bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Lappi Areena in Rovaniemi, Finland May 7, 2019. Mandel Ngan/POOL via REUTERS/File Photo

U.S. President Donald Trump had imposed the global “Section 232” tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminum in March 2018 on both Canada and Mexico on national security grounds, invoking a 1962 Cold War-era trade law.

The metals tariffs were a major irritant for Canada and Mexico and had caused them to halt progress toward ratification of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the trilateral trade deal signed last year which will replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“We were very clear that as long as the 232 tariffs were there it would be very, very hard for us to ratify the new NAFTA, and that is why we did not table the legislation,” Freeland said in an interview broadcast by CBC radio.

“Now that that big obstacle is lifted, full steam ahead,” she said, without saying when the agreement would be presented to parliament, which closes down in June ahead of an October national election.

“I hope all members of the house will support this agreement,” she added.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Friday he would meet with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on May 30 to discuss “advancing” ratification.

While several U.S. Democrats applauded removal of the tariffs, some on Friday said USMCA was not yet ready for their support.

“When it comes to the new agreement, House Democrats continue to have a number of substantial concerns related to labor, environment, enforcement, and access to affordable medicines provisions. Those issues still need to be remedied,” said U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal on Friday.

Freeland said Canada was in the process of reaching out to American Democrats to allay their concerns.

“We have been meeting with many leading Democrats to talk to them about the new NAFTA,” Freeland said. “We have a good, strong conversation happening.”

Despite the breakthrough on tariffs and the USMCA agreement last year, Freeland said Canada was still worried about U.S. protectionism.

“I am still concerned about U.S. protectionism and I think it would be naive for anyone to think that there is any kind of permanent safety or security. The reality is that this U.S. administration is openly, explicitly, and proudly protectionist,” Freeland said.

Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by James Dalgleish

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