Canada and Mexico may be exempted from proposed U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs, a White House spokesperson and presidential cabinet ministers said Wednesday.
“There are potential carve-outs for Canada and Mexico based on national security – and possibly other countries as well, based on that process,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said at the daily White House press briefing.
“That would be a case-by-case and country-by-country basis.”
Canada has been lobbying hard to gain exemption from the 25 percent steel and 10 percent aluminum tariffs announced but not yet finalized by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke Wednesday with House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Canadian Ambassador David McNaughton has a dinner date Wednesday night with H.R. McMaster, the U.S. national security advisor.
Meanwhile, Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan and his counterpart James Mattis have spoken, as have Canadian UN Ambassador Marc-Andre Blanchard and his U.S. counterpart Nikki Haley.
Other senior Canadian government officials have met with various American politicians.
Trump is also raising the hackles of some powerful Americans, including members of his own party and business leaders, who fear the steel and aluminum tariffs may result in a global trade war.
Trump’s top economic advisor Gary Cohn resigned Tuesday over the decision to impose the tariffs.
But two of Trump’s cabinet ministers told reporters earlier Wednesday that Canada and Mexico may escape the tariffs.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the president has “indicated a degree of flexibility”.
“If we can work something out with Canada and Mexico, they will be exempted,” Ross said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said “there will be a mechanism where, to the extent that the president wants to give waivers, the president can do that.”
Mnuchin added that the Americans are “cautiously optimistic” that ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations can be successful, and if so, “they [Canada and Mexico] will be exempted.”
The proposed tariffs can be enacted under a law that states such action can be taken as a national security measure to protect an essential American industry, such as the steel sector. The Canadians have said that it is hard to believe that an ally as close Canada could threaten U.S. national security with steel exports.
A decision on the tariff exemptions could be announced as early as Thursday.
But an unnamed source familiar with the situation likened the chaos surrounding the tariffs to a TV reality show starring the president, saying it is a “last episode of ‘The Apprentice’ kind of thing”.