U.S. President Donald Trump says his big tariff announcement is coming today, even as his White House wrestles internally over the policy, numerous political allies warn him against it and the rest of the world watches warily.
“Looking forward to 3:30 P.M.(ET) meeting today at the White House,” Trump tweeted.
“We have to protect & build our steel and aluminum industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and co-operation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military.”
It’s expected Canada and Mexico will get some form of provisional exemption.
The White House indicated Wednesday that the two North American neighbours might get what’s being deemed a national-security carve-out – but that it might only be temporary, and would depend on how those countries behave at the NAFTA negotiating table.
There has been an intense 11th-hour debate within the U.S. administration over how to design the policy. Amid the uncertainty, today’s event was initially left off Thursday’s White House public schedule.
A senior adviser also indicated Wednesday that any relief for Canada could be very short-lived.
In fact, it sounded a bit like a negotiating threat. Peter Navarro said relief from the roughly 25 per cent steel and 10 per cent aluminum tariff would be tied to how those countries respond at the NAFTA table.
One report in the Washington Post said among the plans being discussed is to grant Canada and Mexico relief for just 30 days – then extend it if there’s progress in the next round of NAFTA talks.
“Within about 15 to 30 days the tariffs go into effect (for most of the world),” Navarro told Fox Business Channel late Wednesday, adding that steel workers would be present for a presidential proclamation-signing ceremony.
“The proclamation will have a clause that does not impose these tariffs immediately, on Canada and Mexico. It’s gonna give us … the opportunity to negotiate a great deal for this country. And if we get that, then all’s good with Canada and Mexico.”
On Wednesday, 107 congressional members of Trump’s Republican party produced a letter expressing deep concern over the policy and urging him to significantly scale it down. The controversy has produced a rare public backlash against the president from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Expect a low-key response from Canada if Trump indeed intends to use temporary tariff relief as a bargaining threat. That means no talk of walking away from the table, nor any hint of making concessions under pressure.
“Our position hasn’t and won’t change,” one Canadian source said. “We’re after a good deal, not any deal. We’ll take no deal rather than a bad one.”