Around the same time that Donald Trump was heralding the dawn of peace in the Middle East on Tuesday, the U.S. backed away from its threat of tariffs on Canadian aluminum.
Clearly, Canada caught Trump on a good day.
While it isn’t exactly peace breaking out in the Middle East or even a cure for coronavirus, Canada’s victory in the aluminum tariff battle isn’t a small thing either in the larger scheme of Canada-U.S. relations. In a crazy presidential election year, with voting less than 50 days away, Canada triumphed over a Trump tantrum.
In fact, this marks the second time during the pandemic that Canada has successfully escaped Trump’s efforts to turn the COVID-19 crisis into a trade war.
The first came back in the spring, when Trump invoked an America-first presidential order on the production of pandemic-relief supplies, such as medical masks produced by 3M. After an extraordinary few days of Canadian fist-shaking against the president (and also some quieter diplomacy,) Canada won an exemption from that order, which remains in force.
Chrystia Freeland, who also wrestled a new North American free trade deal out of Trump’s White House two years ago, had some reason to look pleased when she talked to reporters on Tuesday about the aluminum win.
“This is a day when common sense has prevailed,” Freeland said, which is also something you can’t say happens every day in Donald Trump’s America.
Originally, this was going to be a news conference in which Freeland would announce all the U.S. products that Canada planned to hit with retaliatory tariffs. On that list were the washing machines produced at the same Ohio factory where Trump announced the tariff war against Canadian aluminum in August.
This tactic also wouldn’t be unprecedented. Back in 2018, when Trump hit Canada with a round of steel and aluminum tariffs, Canada shot back with an exhaustive, dollar-for-dollar list of retaliatory tariffs drawn up with political impact in mind.
As things turned out, Canada didn’t need to unveil a similar list in this battle, but International Trade Minister Mary Ng says this country is keeping one in its back pocket in case Trump fires up another round of tariff rockets.
Neither Canada nor Justin Trudeau are major players in “Rage,” the new Bob Woodward book that was officially released on Tuesday, even if this country has found itself on the receiving end of the president’s angry outbursts. Trudeau doesn’t even get a mention among those 18 interviews the president granted Woodward, but trade is a recurring obsession that became tiresome to Woodward.
“Trump grew exercised when I tried to break up his litany of trade achievements and grievances — which we covered nearly every time we spoke — with more questions about foreign policy,” Woodward writes.
It’s a signature insight into Trump, how everything about his outlook on the world, even in a pandemic, is viewed through the prism of trade. At another point in the book, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, points to the Canada-U.S.-Mexico free trade deal as among the top three things Trump had to do to win re-election.
Peace in the Middle East, incidentally, is not one of the three: they would be the wall at the Mexican border and a trade deal with China.
Chances are that neither Trump nor his trade people are going to explain fully why they backed down in this most recent trade war with Canada, but the safe bet is that once again, the U.S. learned that messing around with Canada is more complicated and costly than they anticipated. It seems to be a lesson that Trump’s White House keeps needing to learn.
14 hrs ago
19 hrs ago
12 hrs ago
Back in the spring, Canada won the exemption on the America-first order because it was able to demonstrate that the U.S. was also relying on this country to produce pandemic-relief supplies — pulp from B.C. for masks, for instance, or Canadian parts for ventilators.
It is bad luck for Trudeau that Trump’s election ended up being such a defining feature of his time in power, forcing the Liberal government into constant defence in its relationship with Canada’s most important neighbour and trading partner.
But it hasn’t lost any big battles yet, and somehow, remarkably, Canada is currently managing to keep its border closed with the United States for the longest stretch in the history of either country. It has pulled this off through a complicated, constant negotiation in which both nations are repeatedly reviewing what’s essential about their relationship.
Again, it’s not peace in the Middle East, but it’s not insignificant either. Trump has two kinds of fights he cares about — trade and re-election. Quietly, Canada keeps showing he doesn’t win every fight he picks.
Report an error
About The Star