The White House is moving closer to imposing tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, but America’s neighbors will be exempt — for now.
Trade adviser Peter Navarro told Charles V. Payne on Fox Business Wednesday night that Canada and Mexico would be excluded, but implied that whether it stays that way depends on renegotiating NAFTA.
“The proclamation will have a clause that does not impose these tariffs immediately on Canada and Mexico,” Navarro said. “It’s going to give us an opportunity, and one of the best guys in the administration, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer [the US trade representative], to negotiate a great deal for this country, and if we get that, then all’s good with Canada and Mexico.”
Navarro’s comments appear to confirm what earlier reports Wednesday suggested: that Canada and Mexico would get a temporary pass on the United States’ plan to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum.
President Trump originally said that the tariffs would be applied equally, with no exceptions for allies. But he did hint on Twitter earlier this week that he would reconsider tariffs on Canada and Mexico if a “new & fair NAFTA agreement” were signed.
We have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada. NAFTA, which is under renegotiation right now, has been a bad deal for U.S.A. Massive relocation of companies & jobs. Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed. Also, Canada must..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2018
...treat our farmers much better. Highly restrictive. Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S. They have not done what needs to be done. Millions of people addicted and dying.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2018
An administration official told the Washington Post before Navarro’s comments that Canada and Mexico would likely be exempted from tariffs for 30 days — not a whole lot of time to wrap up negotiations on the trade agreement, which have lately stalled. Though the informal deadline for a new NAFTA deal is set for March 31 — well within that 30-day period — talks have hit setbacks, and all three countries are skittish about inking a final agreement because 2018 is an election year for each.
Whether Canada and Mexico’s brief reprieve from tariffs will jump-start NAFTA talks or be perceived as coercion to win concessions remains an open question. But what is clear is that Trump’s new trade policy is still causing chaos inside and outside the White House.
Trump was expected to make the tariffs official Thursday at an afternoon ceremony in the Oval Office. But Axios’s Jonathan Swan reported Wednesday night that a senior administration official said the signing wouldn’t take place because lawyers are still reviewing the policy. No ceremony appears on the White House’s official schedule.
This was correct when JJ tweeted it but a senior official just told me it’s now NOT happening tomorrow. As we reported earlier in the day, Trump wanted to do it Thursday but lawyers still at it. https://t.co/vpo1ZHBnrG— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) March 8, 2018
Members of Trump’s administration have tried to talk him out the tariff plan. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis warned it could fray relations with allies. Top economic adviser Gary Cohn announced his resignation on Tuesday, after he was unable to convince Trump that imposing tariffs would spark an unproductive trade war.
More than 100 Republicans have sent Trump a letter begging him not to move forward with tariffs and instead focus on China’s “unfair” practices. The markets were also a bit jittery on Wednesday, dropping at the news of Cohn’s departure and a possible trade war.
Foreign allies have registered their displeasure with Trump’s proposal, including Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who issued an in-person warning on Tuesday. The European Union has threatened to retaliate by imposing tariffs on all-American imports such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Kentucky bourbon.
Trump, however, sees tariffs as fulfilling one of his key campaign promises, and nothing so far has indicated he’ll be swayed. “When we’re behind on every single country, trade wars aren’t so bad,” Trump said Tuesday.“Do you understand what I mean by that?”