March 12, 2018 / 2:47 PM / 9 days ago

Canada's PM bids to reassure aluminum workers about U.S. tariffs

MONTREAL, March 12 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday kicked off a tour of the nation’s steel and aluminum regions to reassure workers worried that the United States could still introduce tariffs on the imports of the metals.

Trudeau’s first stop was the province of Quebec, the heart of Canada’s aluminum industry, where he will be accompanied by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. He was due to meet workers at Rio Tinto Ltd’s smelting plant in Alma.

U.S. President Donald Trump seeks to impose import tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent for aluminum, effective later this month.

Canada, the biggest supplier of steel and aluminum to the United States, escaped Trump’s import duties along with Mexico, but the two countries could still face duties if they fail to negotiate a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) deal.

“We know well that with this president there are moments of unpredictability and I think it’s important to show that we are there to reassure the workers,” Trudeau told public broadcaster Radio Canada on Monday.

“We are negotiating the NAFTA accord in good faith and we will continue to do so but I don’t want the president to think he can bring tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum without there being consequences.”

Trudeau rejected calls by some Quebec union leaders to take a harder line in NAFTA talks and leave the table.

“I understand this point of view, but for me, I think Canadians in general are expecting us to work productively with the United States,” Trudeau said.

U.S. tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum would be “very harmful” for industry and workers in both countries, he added. Canada has vowed to retaliate if duties are imposed.

Later this week Trudeau is due to visit the steel town of Hamilton, where workers are on edge.

Although Trump linked the exemption of tariffs for Canada to progress at the NAFTA talks, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said there was no link between the two.

“These are two separate tracks and in the NAFTA negotiations Canada will not be subject to any type of pressure. This episode has not changed our NAFTA negotiating position — we are very clear on that,” she told CTV television on Sunday. (Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa Editing by Denny Thomas and Alistair Bell)

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