The U.S., Canada and Mexico are getting close to a deal to lift U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs on its North American allies, clearing the way for ratification of a new trade pact for the three countries, says U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“I think we are close to an understanding with Mexico and Canada,” Mnuchin told lawmakers Wednesday at a Senate hearing. “I’ve spoken to the finance ministers. (U.S. Trade Representative Robert) Lighthizer is leading the effort on this, but I can assure you it is a priority of ours.”
The Trump administration slapped Section 232 tariffs, originally written to address national security concerns, on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum last year in an effort to restart negotiations to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement. Both Canada and Mexico have hit back with retaliatory tariffs, and representatives of both countries have said they will lift the retaliation as soon as the U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs are removed.
Mnuchin’s comments Wednesday came the same day as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland over the issue. A spokeswoman for the USTR declined to comment on the meeting and Freeland would only reiterate to reporters that Canada will not ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement while the tariffs are still in place.
Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley also sat down with Freeland and came away from the meeting optimistic that a deal on the tariffs is close.
“Metal tariffs issue seems to (have) made progress,” Grassley tweeted. “Good news. If accurate (President Donald) Trump is much closer to a big victory.”
U.S. progress with Mexico seems to be moving even faster, according to Jesús Seade, Mexico’s top North American negotiator, who spoke to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Wednesday.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’re almost done,” Seade said, who also stressed that, contrary to expectations, Mexico would not be accepting steel and aluminum quotas in place of the tariffs. “We have made tremendous progress and I’m looking to an early resolution on the basis of lifting the tariffs — no quotas.”
Seade said he wants to wait on finalizing a deal on the tariffs until Canada is also ready, but that may not be possible.
“We were getting close to an agreement, and I said to Ambassador Lighthizer, ‘Bob, I really wouldn’t want to come to completion without touching base with Canada,’” Seade said.
But Seade also said Mexican industry is “really desperate,” and he is not willing to wait more than two weeks for Canada to reach a deal with the U.S.
“I personally don’t see a reason why not,” he added about why a U.S.-Canada deal has not yet been finished, “but I’m not Canadian.”
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