Freeland calls tariffs ‘absurd’ after meeting U.S. Senate committee

WASHINGTON _ Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is in the heart of the U.S. Capitol, where she’s denouncing the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs as illegal and absurd.

Freeland reiterated Canada’s opposition to the tariffs after a meeting this afternoon with the influential U.S. Senate foreign relations committee in Washington.

She’s the first Canadian politician to set foot in Washington following the Trump administration’s personal attacks on Justin Trudeau this past weekend at the end of the G7 summit.

The minister stayed above the fray on those attacks, but she did not hesitate to repeat Canada’s opposition in the bluntest of terms _ in particular the use of Section 232 of U.S. trade law to justify the action on national security grounds.

“The Section 232 action _ which is, let me remind people, a national security consideration _ is frankly absurd,” the minister said.

“The notion that Canadian steel and aluminum could pose a national security threat to the United States _ I think Americans understand it’s simply not the case. That action is also illegal under the WTO and NAFTA rules.”

Freeland has widespread support in that view from a majority of U.S. senators, said the committee’s Republican chair, Sen. Bob Corker.

“I do think it’s an abuse of presidential authority to use the 232 waiver, and I’ve tried to pass a piece of legislation on the floor to counter that,” Corker said after the meeting with Freeland.

Corker is trying to gather support for legislation that would give U.S. Congress, not the president, the authority to impose tariffs under the national security clause of U.S. trade law.

Corker isn’t seeking re-election in this fall’s U.S. midterm elections, and has railed against his fellow senators who are headed to the polls and worried about their electoral success for not standing up to Trump publicly.

Corker said there wasn’t any question that Trump has damaged relations with Canada, but he hoped cooler heads would prevail.

Canada and its allies plan to impose retaliatory action by the end of the month on a broad range of consumer goods. The government has proposed $16.6-billion tariff package, in retaliation for the Trump administration’s decision to impose 25 per cent import duties on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum.

Freeland said Canada was responding in “sorry rather than anger” but that the government would respond dollar-for-dollar to the U.S. tariffs.

“Canada is not a country that we have trade issues with,” Corker said.

Trudeau incurred Trump’s Twitter wrath when he reiterated Canada’s opposition to the tariffs at the end of the G7 summit in Quebec on the weekend.

Freeland is expected to give a major foreign policy speech later Wednesday.

On Thursday, Freeland is expected to meet U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer in an effort to keep the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement on the rails.

Canada and the U.S. appear to be at an impasse over Trump’s insistence on a five-year sunset clause, something Trudeau himself said this past weekend was a non-starter.