Ottawa weighs next steps as aluminum counter-tariff rollout nears

Canadian workers and businesses will find out this week the final details of the federal government’s plan to roll out $3.6 billion in countertariffs on American aluminum products.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland announced last month the government would hit back with “dollar for dollar” matching tariffs after the Trump administration yet again slapped tariffs on Canadian aluminum under the claim that it represents a national security threat to the United States.

At the time, finance department officials laid out a list of products that the government was considering hitting with countertariffs, and asked stakeholders to weigh in.

The list of proposed items to be hit with tariffs includes refrigerators, washers and dryers; bicycles and metal office furniture; livestock trailers; sports equipment including baseball bats and golf clubs; aluminum components used in doors, windows and frames; and aluminum beverage cans.

Aluminum ores, bars, wire and foil and aerosol containers are also among the dozens of items on that proposed list that is set to be finalized this coming week.

“Consultations on the government’s intent to impose countermeasures against the United States’ illegal and unjustified tariffs on Canadian aluminum products ended on Sept. 6,” said Katherine Cuplinkas, press secretary to Freeland.

“We have welcomed more than 750 submissions during this period. Further information will be announced soon.”

Retaliatory tariffs are scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 16.

At the same time, groups like the United Steelworkers union and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce say there are clear, specific actions they want from the government to support the industry.

Mark Agnew, senior director for international policy with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said the feedback the organization has been receiving from members on the proposed countertariffs is mixed.

“Some Canadian companies see opportunities to edge out their U.S. competition given the tariff will make American products more expensive,” he wrote in an email to Global News. “However, there are many companies that do not want to see their products subject to retaliatory tariffs.”

The Chamber has been pushing four key asks from the government as it finalizes its retaliatory measures: among them, a one-off exemption process for companies that hit by “unforeseen circumstances” along with follow-up consultations with industry in six to nine months.

Part of that would be to hear any potential needs to update the list of products with tariffs and also “to ensure the product list remains relevant after the November elections in the U.S.”

The Chamber also wants the minimum threshold for custom duties and taxes on goods coming into the country to be maintained for the products on the retaliatory list, and for the government to keep engaging with the U.S. administration about “root causes of distortions in the aluminum market.”

The United Steelworkers union has put forward its own list of asks, citing the need for federal investment to help the aluminum sector become more energy-efficient and reduce emissions.

“U.S. tariffs and the climate of tension in the trading relationship have led aluminum smelters to put all their investments in Canada on hold,” said the union’s national director, Ken Neumann, in a press release.

“The best response for the Canadian government is to support the domestic industry in becoming even greener and modernizing its facilities to keep pace with changing demand.”

Neumann also said the union wants to see the federal government apply retaliatory tariffs beyond aluminum products, arguing that keeping the tariffs only on aluminum will hurt the sector.

Freeland, however, has said the Canadian approach will be directly proportionate to American measures and will apply to aluminum and aluminum-containing products.

“We will not escalate and we will not back down,” she said.

Trump’s tariffs came into effect on Aug. 16.

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