Canada vows to protect metals sector but resists call for quick action

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s government vowed on Monday to do all it could to protect its steel and aluminum sectors from U.S. tariffs but sidestepped an industry call to strike back quickly, saying it needed time to study the issue.

FILE PHOTO: Rolled up steel sits in the ArcelorMittal Dofasco steel plant in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/File Photo

President Donald Trump’s administration last week imposed U.S. tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum from Canada - the No. 1 steel exporter to the United States - as well as on Mexico and the European Union.

Canada retaliated against the latest punitive measures last week by proposing levies on C$16.6 billion worth of U.S. exports that would take effect on July 1.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with steel executives on Monday and said: “We are going to stand up for our workers.”

Canadian Steel Producers Association President Joseph Galimberti said producers had not asked the federal government for financial help at the Ottawa meeting but instead pressed for the countermeasures to be imposed as quickly as possible.

“We are seeing customers in steel right now who are changing orders, putting orders on hold ... this is a dire situation for Canadian steel,” he told reporters.

Trudeau made clear later he was in no hurry, telling legislators in the House of Commons that Ottawa wanted to carry out public consultations on the proposed retaliatory tariffs to make sure they were appropriate.

Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Ottawa would study the impact of the U.S. tariffs before offering specific aid.

“We’re going to work with the industry to really see the impact on the ground,” he said on the sidelines of a global aluminum summit in Montreal. “But the message we’ve been saying to everyone watching is that we’ll always be there for the workers.”

In June 2017, Ottawa announced a C$867 million ($670.6 million) package for softwood lumber producers hit by U.S. tariffs, and officials said they were looking at similar measures.

Dominique Anglade, economy minister of the Canadian province of Quebec, which generated C$8 billion ($6.19 billion) in aluminum exports last year, said there would be an industry meeting on June 11 to discuss the tariffs.

Anglade called the delay “a wise decision,” telling reporters it would give Canada time to discuss the impact of the counter-tariffs.

Canada sent 84 percent of its steel exports, worth C$9 billion ($6.97 billion), south last year, according to Statistics Canada.

Trade ties between Canada and the United States have soured since Trump took office in January 2017. The tension spilled over into talks to update the three-nation North American Free Trade Agreement, which have effectively stalled.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Leah Schnurr in Ottawa; Editing by Susan Thomas and Peter Cooney