Trump reimposes 10% aluminum tariff on Canadian exports

Photo: Edelman

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is reimposing a 10% aluminum tariff on Canada’s exports, effective Aug. 16.

Trump made the announcement at a campaign speech in Ohio today, saying he signed an executive order putting the controversial tariffs back in place – just a little over a month after the new USMCA North American free-trade agreement came into effect.

In the proclamation, Trump accused Ottawa of “not providing an effective alternative means to address the threatened impairment to [American] national security from imports of aluminum from Canada.”

“Thus, I have determined that it is necessary and appropriate to re-impose the 10 per cent ad valorem tariff... on imports of non-alloyed unwrought aluminum articles from Canada," the proclamation said.

Similarly, the office of U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer said that, despite the demand not being there in the United States, a large quantity of Canadian aluminum has moved into the market after Canada’s exports were made exempt to the previous round of tariffs.

The statement added that the “surge” in Canadian aluminum exports south of the border has “intensified in recent months.”

The Trump White House previously imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on imports from most countries – including a number of traditional treaty allies to the United States – in 2018 in the name of national security. The Canadian tariffs (along with those imposed on Mexico) were later removed as part of the USMCA talks.

Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, D.C. director Christopher Sands said Canada has had to deal with a number of tough surprises from the Trump White House over the years, but the aluminum tariff is among the most shocking – both in 2018 and now.

But Sands added it also fits with Trump’s way of operating when it comes to handling bilateral trade with allies in the West by taking a harsh protectionist stance. The White House’s use of the tariff powers – granted to the President of the United States under Section 232 of the U.S. Trade Expansion Act from 1962 – are another example of that, he said.

“Donald Trump is someone who will always find whatever hammer to hit whichever nail he wants to hit,” Sands said. “... When you think about the 232 tariffs, nobody in 1962 thought it would ever be used on Canada. It makes no sense. But the way they wrote it was loose enough that the President can use that tool. He has that power.”

Until the U.S. Congress alters the Act to prevent the use of 232 tariffs on treaty allies, Sands added that Trump – or future presidents – can maintain that hammer over Canadian exports, regardless of congressional consent.

Some reports said Washington has considered reimposing tariffs for months but held off while the USMCA came into effect. The tariffs remain one of the highest-profile trade disputes in North America during the Trump regime, which began in 2016.