OTTAWA • Canada will move quickly to ratify the new North American trade pact, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Saturday, a day after the United States agreed to lift tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium.
US President Donald Trump had imposed the global "Section 232" tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium in March last year on Canada and Mexico on national security grounds, invoking a 1962 Cold War-era trade law.
The metals tariffs were a major irritant for Canada and Mexico and caused them to halt progress towards ratification of the new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the trilateral trade deal signed last year which will replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).
"We were very clear that as long as the 232 tariffs were there, it would be very, very hard for us to ratify the new Nafta, and that is why we did not table the legislation," Ms Freeland said in an interview broadcast by CBC radio.
"Now that that big obstacle is lifted, full steam ahead," she said, without saying when the agreement would be presented to Parliament, which closes in June ahead of an October national election.
"I hope all members of the House will support this agreement," she added.
US Vice-President Mike Pence said last Friday that he would meet Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on May 30 to discuss "advancing" ratification.
While several US Democrats applauded the removal of the tariffs, some said the USMCA was not yet ready for their support.
"When it comes to the new agreement, House Democrats continue to have a number of substantial concerns related to labour, environment, enforcement and access to affordable medicines provisions. Those issues still need to be remedied," said US House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal last Friday.
Ms Freeland said Canada was in the process of reaching out to American Democrats to allay their concerns. "We have been meeting with many leading Democrats to talk to them about the new Nafta," she said. "We have a good, strong conversation happening."
Despite the breakthrough on tariffs and the USMCA last year, Ms Freeland said Canada was still worried about US protectionism.
"I am still concerned about US protectionism and I think it would be naive for anyone to think that there is any kind of permanent safety or security. The reality is that this US administration is openly, explicitly and proudly protectionist,"she said.