U.S. ag secretary sides with Canada on steel tariff

Sonny Perdue says his government needs to lift its North American tariff on steel and aluminum as soon as possible

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Canada has a friend in Washington.

Sonny Perdue, the U.S. agriculture secretary, believes the American government should drop tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico as soon as possible.

“We recognize from our industry and our sector, it’s in all of our best interests to see that it happens,” said Perdue, who spoke Feb. 21 at the U.S. Department of Agriculture agricultural outlook held in Washington.

“I’ve expressed my opinion, certainly, to the (U.S.) trade representative and the president.”

Last year, the U.S. announced tariffs of 25 percent on imports of Canadian and Mexican steel, and 10 percent on imports of Canadian and Mexican aluminum. In response, Canada introduced tariffs on U.S. steel, aluminum and other products.

U.S. President Donald Trump justified the tariffs, claiming the imported metals were a threat to U.S. national security.

Trade analysts assumed the tariffs were a pressure tactic so U.S. negotiators could squeeze more out of Canada and Mexico during talks for a new North American free trade deal.

As of late February, Trump had still not removed the tariffs, even though the three countries signed a United States-Mexico Canada-Agreement (USMCA) in early October.

Canadian ministers, including Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay, have publicly urged the U.S. to drop the tariffs.

“We have been very clear, U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum harm U.S. (and) Canadian companies and their workers,” MacAulay said at the USDA outlook forum. “Removing those tariffs are a priority.”

Journalists pressured Perdue on the tariffs during a media briefing at the USDA event. He stood by his position.

“The expectations among the ag sectors, in all three countries, (was) once an agreement was reached … the 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum would have been resolved as well,” he said.

“Producers in our country have sort of taken a double whammy with the cost of machinery … while their commodities have seen decreased prices.”

Perdue repeated he has spoken to Trump, but those discussions were fruitless.

“The president listens. (But) obviously he has a different opinion about the benefits of tariffs, at this point in time.”

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