HALIFAX — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged Friday to work with Canadian companies hit by punishing U.S. tariffs to protect jobs and workers north of the border, but offered no details about what that might mean as the bilateral trade war continued to escalate.
In a CBC radio interview in Halifax, Trudeau slammed the widely denounced U.S. measures as “ridiculous” and ones that will backfire in the United States, which will face retaliatory dollar-for-dollar tariff “countermeasures” on up to $16.6 billion worth of American imports.
He said he had spoken with steel and aluminum producers, assuring them the federal government will help companies weather the sanctions.
“I’ve assured them that we’re going to be working with them to make sure that Canadian jobs are protected and that Canadian workers and communities continue to do OK despite these unnecessary and punitive actions from the United States,” he said.
“We’re actually going to see hardship happening on both sides, well particularly on the American side of the border, as the unintended consequences of putting trade tariffs on their closest ally and trading partner begin to be felt.”
The remarks came as U.S. President Donald Trump lobbed another Twitter salvo at Canada early Friday.
“Canada has treated our agricultural business and farmers very poorly for a very long period of time. Highly restrictive on trade!” he wrote. “They must open their markets and take down their trade barriers! They report a really high surplus on trade with us. Do timber and lumber in U.S.?”
Trump triggered the spiralling trade dispute Thursday when he imposed import duties of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum on goods from Canada, Mexico and Europe.
Business leaders in Canada and the U.S. predicted dire economic consequences as result of the decision, which was derided on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans also criticized the move. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is not seeking re-election, said he disagrees with the decision.
Trump responded to the Canadian tariffs on up to $16.6 billion worth of U.S. imports, saying the days of the U.S. being taken advantage of in trade deals “are over.”
Asked Friday about how the measures affect relations with the United States, Trudeau said it marked “a bit of a turning point, but we’ve always known that this administration is unpredictable.”
“It just doesn’t make any sense and we’re going to continue to explain that to the president and the American administration,” he said on CBC, adding that the relationship had always been “positive and mutually beneficial.”
They come as the two countries, along with Mexico, try to hammer out a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement and a week before Trump sets foot on Canadian soil for the first time as president, in the G7 summit that Trudeau is hosting in Quebec. It represents an apparent breakdown in Trudeau’s efforts to find common ground with the tough-talking president.
Trudeau was in Halifax to speak to the annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
The Canadian Press