Foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland went on a whirlwind tour of the Sault’s steel industry Thursday, speaking with Algoma Steel Inc. management and employees about Canada’s ongoing steel and aluminum tariff battle with the United States.
“My goal was to talk to them, mostly about the 232 steel and aluminum tariffs, and to talk with them about what our strategy is to get those tariffs lifted,” Freeland told reporters prior to a roundtable discussion at Algoma.
Recently appointed Algoma Steel Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mike McQuade says Canadian steel producers are approaching a crisis.
McQuade, who spoke with reporters before Freeland’s media availability, says the Sault Ste. Marie-based steelmaker is losing roughly $1 million a day - for a loss of roughly $250 million dollars since the tariffs on steel and aluminum were slapped on Canada by the U.S. in March 2018.
“That’s basically come off of our bottom line, so it’s a dire situation,” McQuade told reporters. “The minister’s very aware of it, the government’s very aware of it, and credits to the government for keeping contact with us, and making sure that we’re abreast of all the things that are happening.”
Freeland, when asked about $110 million worth of Canadian goods and businesses that are now exempt from Canadian retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports, defended the moves by the federal government.
“I am, of course, aware of those remissions, and Canada - like the United States - has a process where the initial tariffs were levied, and then companies are able to make a case for why there should be remissions in certain areas,” Freeland said. “In Canada’s case, the remissions are handled by the department of finance, and I know that the department of finance looks very carefully at the facts, and works hard to strike a careful balance.”
“Having said that, when it comes to Canada’s retaliation on 232, let me first of all say I think it was a very important and necessary step by our government to act forcefully and retaliate against the illegal and unjust U.S. 232 steel and aluminum tariffs. That was absolutely the right thing to do - I’m glad we did it.”
“I don’t think I will be speaking out of school to say I heard here at Algoma strong support for that action.”
Freeland calls the remissions an opportunity.
“It gives us an opportunity to look at refreshing our own retaliation list, and that is something which we are doing right now in consultation with a lot of interested parties - and that’s actually one of the issues that we discussed here at Algoma today,” she said.
Mayor Christian Provenzano told reporters that it was important for the minister to visit Sault Ste. Marie Thursday.
“I think it’s really important that she be in Sault Ste. Marie, and she meet with our employers here who are affected by that, and she’s doing that,” said Provenzano. “She’s met with the executive of Algoma today and also some of the executive of Tenaris.”
“It shows that she’s dedicated, she’s committed and she’s working hard on this matter - and I’m glad that’s she’s here to hear the people firsthand.”