U.S., Canada lift steel tariffs in shifting trade landscape

The Algoma steel mill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, characterizes the complex nature of American and Canadian steel trade issues. (PHOTO: Billy Wilson, Flickr CC)

Well, the short, unnecessary trade war with our friendly neighbor Canada appears to be over. Last week, the United States and Canada jointly lifted countervailing tariffs on steel and aluminum.

These two nations have long dickered over elements of trade policy, but have generally accepted that they’re good for each other. Canada buys more from us than we buy from them. They provide supplies of things we need and sometimes can’t make enough of ourselves — like electricity, oil and timber.

Nevertheless, President Trump’s rhetoric last year made Canada sound like a petulant freeloader. He also took swipes at allies in Europe. It’s not that Canada and Europe are faultless; it’s that he seemed incapable of distinguishing friend from foe.

I explained in a Sept. 16, 2018 column that the trade relationship between the U.S., Canada and Mexico is so complex that you can’t really buy a vehicle made exclusively in any one country.

Now that the tariffs have been lifted, what have we accomplished? Well, as near as we can tell, we’re right where we were when the trade dispute started. Canada promises to do more to keep “dumped” Chinese steel out of the American market, but it had already made that promise. Canada has the same problem with steel dumping that we do.

Meantime, America’s trade war with China heats up, threatening the world’s economy. In fact, that’s quite likely why the U.S. backed off its disputes with Canada. And we’ll be making friends with Mexico again soon, too. Why? Because we’re going to need them when Chinese goods and produce become more expensive due to tariffs.

As I wrote almost a year ago, some of the president’s trade policy is related to improving trade, but a great deal of it is subterfuge. It’s a persistent churn of chaos designed to protect his political power and retain the loyalties of his most fervent supporters in what is actually a culture war.

Hence a trade war with Canada that evaporated simply because it never needed to exist. We have real trade issues with China, but unlike Canada, they don’t have to endure abuse. They’re playing a long game that assumes the decline of America’s global and economic influence. I would entertain any evidence to the contrary.

Meantime, I’m glad that I can enjoy the peace and security of knowing that the Canadian border, just two hour’s drive from my house, will not soon become the front line of a geopolitical incident. In fact, I hear the fishing’s good up there.

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