Steve Mnuchin sees progress on steel tariffs with Mexico and Canada

Steve Mnuchin sees progress on steel tariffs with Mexico and Canada

The steep United States tariffs on steel and aluminum that Washington imposed last year on national security grounds have become a major stumbling block on the road to ratifying a new North American trade pact that the three countries negotiated last year.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she discussed the tariffs on Canadian metals with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Wednesday, but declined to say whether the two countries were close to a deal.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is in "active discussions" over the issue, he said.

President Donald Trump imposed the tariffs during contentious continental trade talks by using a section of US law that allows the president to tax imports on national-security grounds.

"I think we are close to an understanding with Mexico and Canada" on removing steel and aluminum tariffs, Mnuchin told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. He did not provide any details about the potential agreement.

Asked about prospects for a deal later in the day, Freeland said she would not discuss Canada's negotiating strategy.

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USA lawmakers have likewise resisted bringing the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to a vote so long as the tariffs remain in place for Mexico and Canada, traditionally major U.S. suppliers of steel and aluminum.

"Now that we have a free trade agreement between our countries, now that that agreement is moving towards ratification in all three countries, now more than ever we feel is the time to have the tariffs lifted", Freeland told a press conference adding this would result in "true free trade".

A bill to ratify the deal would need approval by Canada's House of Commons, which adjourns for the summer on June 21 ahead of an October general election.

Mr Lighthizer also was due to meet with congressional leaders later Wednesday, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Canada had less success with that approach-in April 2018, Ottawa announced $30 million to align Canada's steel metal-marking system with the U.S. The following month, Trump imposed the duties, anyway.

"I have optimism if we do things well, the Americans may come along", said Seade. "It's not necessary because I think the top priority is to get a deal first".

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