OTTAWA/WASHINGTON/VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Global finance chiefs from America’s closest allies are promising to give Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin an earful this week after the Trump administration imposed steel and aluminum duties that sparked swift trade responses.
Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau acknowledged that trade will now take center stage at the meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the G7 nations taking place at a Canadian ski resort near Vancouver. Mnuchin, who was set to arrive in Canada Thursday, will get a cool reception after the U.S. announced new levies on imported metals from the European Union, Mexico and Canada, citing national security grounds.
“I don’t want to kid you, we will need to talk about this first and foremost,” said Morneau, who is chairing the meetings beginning with a dinner tonight in Whistler, British Columbia. Canada and the European Union have said they will take immediate steps to retaliate, with Canada imposing tariffs on $12.8 billion of U.S. goods, ranging from steel to whisky and maple syrup.
“We think it’s absurd that Canada is considered in any way a security risk, so that will be very clearly stated by me,” said Morneau, who attended Mnuchin’s wedding last year and said he considers the Treasury Secretary a friend. “I have every expectation that our other allies around the table will express the same sentiment.”
The trade wars are hijacking a summit that was initially seen as an opportunity to tout the successes of the global economic upswing, and severely testing the resiliency of the Western economic alliance represented by the G7. The IMF projects the world economy will grow this year and next at its fastest pace since 2011.
“The discussions will be less genteel,” said Bart Oosterveld, director of the global economics program at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “It’s usually a gathering of countries that believe that rules-based free trade is good for all, so the notion that they would get together to talk about tariffs is unusual. It’ll be the talk of the town.”
Frictions in Whistler this weekend could foreshadow even more high-drama at a G7 leaders’ summit next week in Quebec that Trump will attend.
Things are already getting nasty. At a separate press conference in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed that Trump refused a face-to-face meeting request — through Vice President Mike Pence as intermediary — unless the Canadians made a key concession in negotiations for a new North American Free Trade Agreement.
Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission, said in a speech Thursday that “whenever I’m thinking about Trump, I’m lost.”
In imposing the tariffs, Trump invoked a seldom-used section of a 1960s trade law that allows him to erect trade barriers when imports imperil national security. Trump in March imposed 25 percent duties on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum, but he gave temporary reprieve to a handful of allies for further talks to take place.
The action was mainly targeted at China over accusations of flooding the global market with cut-rate metals and dragging down prices. The Trump administration has said a global tariff is necessary because China is shipping its steel through other nations.
“We absolutely think tarriffs are bad,” Morneau said in a separate interview with BNN Bloomberg television. “These specific tariffs are beyond bad — they’re suggesting that Canada is somehow a security risk, which makes no sense.”