By Josh Zumbrun and Alex Leary
President Trump slapped tariffs on some Canadian aluminum
Thursday, a little over a month after implementing the new
U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement designed to lower trade barriers
across North America.
The White House said certain types of aluminum were surging into
the U.S., depressing the U.S. industry. The administration
justified the tariffs using a national security provision and
argued that a depressed U.S. aluminum industry threatens U.S.
"Earlier today I signed a proclamation that defends American
industry by reimposing aluminum tariffs on Canada," President Trump
said during a speech at a Whirlpool factory in Clyde, Ohio. "Canada
was taking advantage of us, as usual," he said. "The aluminum
business was being decimated by Canada, very unfair to our jobs and
our great aluminum workers."
Major business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, the
American Automotive Policy Council, which represents the big-three
auto makers, and the Beer Institute, criticized the president's
decision to reopen a trade fight with a traditional close economic
ally. They say the tariffs violate the spirit of the free trade
agreements. Because of their national security justification,
however, such tariffs don't legally violate trade agreements.
"These tariffs will raise costs for American manufacturers, are
opposed by most U.S. aluminum producers, and will draw retaliation
against U.S. exports -- just as they did before," said Myron
Brilliant, executive vice president and head of international
affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "We urge the
administration to reconsider this move."
Jim McGreevy, the president of the Beer Institute, which
represents American brewers, said the tariffs were a mistake:
"The United States imports more primary aluminum from Canada
than from any other country, making Canada a key player in many
American manufacturing processes, including the beer supply chain,"
Mr. McGreevy said, adding that the beverage industry alone had paid
$582 million in tariffs since they first took effect in 2018. "We
strongly oppose the decision to re-implement aluminum tariffs on
one of our nation's most important allies."
Most of the aluminum industry opposes the tariffs on allies like
Canada, and says that China is behind problematic trade practices
in the aluminum industry. China has long been faulted for
subsidizing its own aluminum makers, which drives down global
Alcoa, the largest U.S. aluminum producer, which also operates
smelters in Canada, said in a statement that "implementing these
tariffs on a vital, free-trading partner will cause unnecessary
disruption...tariffs don't address the issue of Chinese
overcapacity, which is the fundamental issue challenging primary
Century Aluminum Co., a U.S. producer of aluminum that has
become the leading aluminum advocate for tariffs in recent years,
supported the administration's decision.
"President Trump's action demonstrates this administration's
continued dedication to restoring the U.S. aluminum industry and
American jobs," the company said.
In a formal proclamation of the tariffs, the White House said
the tariffs would apply only to a certain category of aluminum --
non-alloyed unwrought aluminum, which refers to unfinished ingots
and slabs of aluminum that are then heated and rolled into
different products like sheet or shapes of aluminum.
The White House said that imports exceeded the volume of any
full calendar year in the previous decade.
Some in the industry disputed the White House
"There is no surge" in imports of Canadian aluminum, said Jean
Simard, chief executive of the Aluminum Association of Canada,
adding some month-over-month anomalies can be attributed to changes
in production caused by the pandemic. "This U.S. focus on Canada
only distracts from the real problem facing the aluminum industry:
unfairly subsidized Chinese aluminum production leading to global
Canada is the fourth-largest aluminum producer in the world, and
the metal is sold to the U.S. for use in defense production,
automotive assembly and beer cans. Mr. Miller said the fresh
tariffs will raise prices, and "it is another example of this
administration needlessly poking an important ally in the eye over
a product the U.S. needs from Canada."
The question remains how the Canadian government will retaliate,
he said. Previously, Canadian authorities imposed tariffs on goods
produced in states where either senior members of Congress hail; or
swing states in the coming election.
The Trump administration first imposed tariffs on steel and
aluminum in March of 2018, arguing that imports of steel and
aluminum threatened U.S. national security. The tariffs ultimately
went into effect for steel and aluminum imports from nearly every
country in the world.
The tariffs emerged as a significant source of tension between
the U.S. and Canada as they worked to renegotiate the 25-year-old
North American Free Trade Agreement. The tariffs had supporters in
the steel industry, but were opposed by most of the aluminum
industry, and by companies that use metals. The Canadian government
argued that due to its longstanding alliance with the U.S., imports
of Canadian metals weren't a threat to U.S. national security.
In May of 2019, the U.S. agreed to drop the tariffs after
Republican lawmakers told the White House that the new trade
agreement would die in Congress if the tariffs weren't removed.
Thursday's announcement only pertained to aluminum from Canada,
not the 25% tariff on steel.
The issue re-emerged earlier this summer when Mr. Trump's top
trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer told Congress in June that he
was concerned by an increase of aluminum imports from Canada. The
Aluminum Association sent a letter to Mr. Lighthizer, signed by 15
CEOs and senior executives across the U.S. aluminum industry,
urging the administration not to reimpose tariffs.
"After all of the hard work that has gone into making the USMCA
a reality, it would be a shame to move backward by reapplying
tariffs or quotas on aluminum," Tom Dobbins, the Aluminum
Association's president, said at the time.
In 2019, the U.S. imported about $5.8 billion of bauxite and
aluminum from Canada, down from as much as $7 billion in 2017.
--Paul Vieira, Bob Tita, Alex Leary and Austen Hufford
contributed to this article.
Write to Josh Zumbrun at Josh.Zumbrun@wsj.com and Alex Leary at
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 06, 2020 18:38 ET (22:38 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.