OTTAWA — A top Trump administration cabinet member says the end of punishing steel and aluminium tariffs on Canada and Mexico is close at hand.
"I think we are close to an understanding with Mexico and Canada," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday.
Mnuchin was testifying before the U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee, where he was asked why those two countries continue to face a 25-per-cent duty on steel and 10-per-cent levy on aluminum exports to the United States.
President Donald Trump imposed the tariffs during the contentious trade talks by using a section of U.S. trade law that allows the president to tax imports on national-security grounds. The three countries' negotiators ultimately reached a new deal that the Americans call the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Mnuchin acknowledged what business leaders in all three countries, as well as U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the political divide, have been saying: that the tariffs must be lifted for the newly negotiated North American free-trade deal to be ratified by legislators.
"I can assure you that Canada and Mexico are the priority," Mnuchin said. "The president has instructed us to try to figure out a solution, and this is a very important part of passing USMCA, which is a very important economic agreement for two of our largest trading partners."
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is in Washington on Wednesday to meet Trump trade czar Robert Lighthizer in a renewed push to get the tariffs lifted.
Her visit comes after Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed the tariffs in a pair of telephone calls on consecutive days late last week.
Freeland, Trudeau and others in the Canadian government have derided the tariffs as absurd, illegal and insulting.
Mnuchin said he has also spoken to Finance Minister Bill Morneau and their Mexican counterpart about the tariffs, but that Lighthizer is actively leading discussions on them.
Freeland will also go to Capitol Hill for a meeting with the influential Republican chair of the Senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley, who expressed optimism earlier this week that the tariffs might soon be lifted.
Lighthizer is also expected to meet House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday to discuss the Canada-Mexico tariffs and the broader U.S. tariff war with China.
Pelosi and fellow Democrats in the House have raised concerns about ratifying the new trade deal because of concerns over labour rights in Mexico, among other things.