By Leika Kihara and Gernot Heller
WHISTLER, British Columbia (Reuters)
The United States’ closest allies attacked the Trump administration on Friday for imposing tariffs on steel and aluminium imports and mounted challenges with the world’s top trade body, fouling the mood at a G7 finance leaders meeting
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was the prime target of the criticism at the meeting of Group of Seven finance ministers and central bank governors in Canada, with the six other G7 member countries subject to the U.S. metals tariffs, which were imposed on national security grounds.
The tariffs also are complicating U.S. efforts to gain cooperation to challenge China’s trade practices as U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrives in Beijing on Saturday for talks aimed at averting a U.S.-China trade war.
Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, whose country’s steel and aluminium producers have been paying the U.S. metals tariffs since March 23, called the U.S. action “deeply deplorable.”
“This doesn’t happen that often at G7 meetings, but it was U.S. against everyone else,” Aso told reporters.
The European Union and Canada both filed challenges with the World Trade Organization.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement that the tariffs were “imposed under a false pretext of safeguarding U.S. national security.”
At the G7 meeting in the Canadian ski resort of Whistler, British Columbia, Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau said he expressed to Mnuchin “our absolute view that this is absurd that Canada could in any way be a security risk.”
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire also said Mnuchin was clearly isolated at on the tariff issue, with the group devolved to a “G6 plus one” with the six expressing “total incomprehension” over the destabilising U.S. move.
“We must find a way to get out of this,” German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told reporters. “That was said clearly by everyone and I think it was even taken on board” by Mnuchin.
Mnuchin, regarded as one of the more moderate trade voices in Trump’s cabinet, said the issue may need to be resolved by G7 leaders at a summit next week in Charlevoix, Quebec, officials attending the meetings said.
The U.S. tariffs of 25 percent on imports of steel and 10 percent on aluminium were imposed early on Friday on Canada, Mexico and the European Union after they refused to accept steel and aluminium quotas in negotiations with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
TRUMP’S TWITTER TIRADE
Trump took to Twitter again on Friday to castigate Canada after his testy exchange with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday over rocky negotiations to update the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump tweeted that Canada had treated U.S. farmers “very poorly for a very long period of time.”
“Highly restrictive on Trade! They must open their markets and take down their trade barriers! They report a really high surplus on trade with us,” he wrote.
Later on Friday, Trump told reporters that he might prefer separate trade deals with Canada and Mexico instead of a revamped NAFTA.
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