Canada gets relief, for now: Excused from U.S. tariffs for undetermined period
WASHINGTON — Canada can breathe easier, for now: It’s getting relief from U.S. tariffs for an undetermined period, as one of only two countries receiving a provisional exemption from the steel and aluminum penalties set to clobber the rest of the world.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed proclamations Thursday slapping tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum, and they snap into effect for the rest of the world in 15 days.
After months of frantic lobbying, diplomatic arm-twisting, and heated debates within his own administration, Trump is signing the proclamations at the White House, surrounded by steelworkers.
“For now, Canada and Mexico will be excluded from the tariffs,” said a senior White House official. “But it’s not open-ended.”
He sidestepped the question of whether the threat of tariffs will be used to bully Canada and Mexico at the NAFTA bargaining table. Speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss matters before they became public, he said only that the reprieve remains in place for now, and that NAFTA is important to economic and national security.
That retains the semblance of a legal fig leaf for the administration.
By law, the tariffs need to be described as a national security matter. A provision in a 1962 U.S. law allows the president to set emergency tariffs as a security issue. But the White House has repeatedly undermined its own legal case, including by intimating that the tariffs would be lorded over Canada and Mexico as some kind of negotiating tool to extract NAFTA concessions.
The White House is now avoiding that kind of talk: ”We will have ongoing discussions with Canada and Mexico,” said the official. ”NAFTA discussions will be part of that only because NAFTA is an important part of the security relationship within the hemisphere.”
In a media briefing, he expressed frustration at the way the tariffs have been characterized, referring repeatedly to the ”fake news,” the lobbyists and the ”swamp things” that he said exaggerated the ill effects while fighting the measures.
Two polls released this week say the tariffs are unpopular.
But the same official said it truly is a matter of national security — with six U.S. aluminum smelters shutting down the last few years, and just five remaining, and only two operating at full capacity, he said that leaves the U.S. at risk of having to import all its aluminum eventually.
“(This tariff-signing) should be a great day for America,” he said.
He also pushed back against reports casting the process as arbitrary, sloppy and rife for successful legal challenges.
In one alleged example of haphazard policy-making, a report this week said the president raised the tariff rates for branding purposes, increasing them from the 24 and 7 per cent recommended by the Department of Commerce — because he wanted nice, round numbers.
The official insisted that was untrue. He said it was only upon careful calculation of import effects that the numbers landed at 25 per cent and 10 per cent. He did not explain how those round numbers managed to survive intact, even after the formula was later upended by the exclusion from tariffs of major suppliers.
Canada is the No. 1 seller of both steel and aluminum to the U.S.
The fact that Canada might be included on the initial hit list had become a political sore spot for the administration, as U.S. critics of the move ridiculed it by zeroing on the idea of national-security tariffs against a peaceful next-door neighbour and defence ally.
A full-court diplomatic press unfolded in recent days, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling Trump earlier this week, and then speaking Thursday with the Republican leaders of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Canada’s ambassador to Washington dined this week with U.S. national-security adviser H.R. McMaster; Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, and Transport Minister Marc Garneau all reached out to cabinet counterparts in recent days.
The lobbying found a mostly receptive audience: the U.S. military strongly resisted tariffs against allies, and 107 congressional Republicans released a letter this week to express their alarm over the move.
Expect a low-key response from Canada if Trump indeed intends to use temporary tariff relief as a bargaining threat. That means no talk of walking away from the table, nor any hint of making concessions under pressure.
“Our position hasn’t and won’t change,” one Canadian source said Thursday. “We’re after a good deal, not any deal. We’ll take no deal rather than a bad one.”
Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press
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Atwal says he has renounced terrorism and he asked to attend Trudeau India event
March-08-18, 3:54 PM
VANCOUVER — A man at the centre of a controversy surrounding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to India says he has renounced terrorism and no longer advocates for Sikh separatism.
Jaspal Atwal said Thursday that since he was convicted of trying to kill an Indian cabinet minister in 1986, he has tried to contribute to Canadian society and those efforts include meeting politicians from various parties.
Atwal, 62, said he was one of many Sikhs who got “caught up” in the separatism movement almost 40 years ago.
“While nothing can excuse my conduct, I can only say that during that time in the early 1980s I reacted to the Indian army storming the Golden Temple … in a way that has caused much pain to many individuals,” he told a news conference at his lawyer’s office in Vancouver.
“I have nothing but regret and remorse for my actions.”
Before he recently left for a trip to India, Atwal said he contacted Liberal MP Randeep Sarai to see if there was a chance for him to attend a reception with Trudeau.
Atwal went to the reception in Mumbai and was photographed with Trudeau’s wife, causing a political and diplomatic uproar. An invitation Atwal received to another reception in New Delhi was rescinded as soon as news broke that he was on the guest list.
Atwal said he received an invitation from the Canadian ambassador after asking Sarai.
“When my attendance became the news story that brings us here today, I was completely shocked and devastated,” he said. “When I asked to consider attending the reception, I had assumed there would be no problem. No one at any point indicated there would be any issue.”
The fallout has been difficult for him and his family, said Atwal, who lives in Surrey, B.C.
“In the end, I am sorry for the embarrassment this matter has caused to Canada, India, my community and family and friends,” he added.
“However, I want to again stress this, that terrible event that happened in the past is something I live with every day and something that I take complete responsibility for. I, like the Sikh community and Indians generally, have moved on from the issue that divided us almost 40 years ago.”
In a previous interview with The Canadian Press, Atwal said he received an invitation directly from the Canadian ambassador’s office.
He said he had a “good relationship” with Trudeau, who knows him by name. The pair sat together in Atwal’s Hummer and chatted during one of Trudeau’s visits to B.C. in 2008 or 2009, he said.
The Prime Minister’s Office has said there is no merit to the assertions by Atwal.
During Trudeau’s trip to India, the prime minister’s national security adviser suggested in a background briefing arranged by the PMO that Atwal’s presence was arranged by factions within the Indian government who want to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from getting too cosy with a foreign government they believe is not committed to a united India.
An official spokesman for the Indian ministry has repudiated that theory.
Atwal’s lawyer, Rishi Gill, said his client was never in contact with anyone from the Indian government to act on its behalf.
“He basically went to this occasion, put his name in, he assumes he was vetted appropriately, he has not hid who he was, he has not changed his name,” he said. “If you Google Mr. Atwal you find information about him. It’s not as if the fact the events that occurred, again, almost four decades ago were not in the news.”
Sarai took responsibility for inviting Atwal and apologized, before resigning as chair of the party’s B.C. caucus.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Atwal’s comments raise question about the prime minister’s version of events during the trip to India.
“The government of India, Randeep Sarai, and Jaspal Atwal, have all refuted Justin Trudeau’s theory that Mr. Atwal was planted at the prime minister’s events in India, in an effort by the Indian government to humiliate Justin Trudeau,” he said in a statement.
“By continuing to support a conspiracy theory that is unsupported by any proof and has been met only with denials by those alleged to be involved, Justin Trudeau is making unsubstantiated allegations to distract attention from his disastrous India trip.”
Atwal, a one-time member of a Sikh separatist group that is banned in Canada and India as a terrorist organization, was convicted of attempting to kill Indian cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu on Vancouver Island in 1986.
He was also charged, but not convicted, in a 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, a staunch opponent of the Sikh separatist movement who later became B.C. premier and a federal Liberal cabinet minister.
Atwal said he has met and been photographed with New Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, and has travelled to India without restriction.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press