Canadian consul general visits Elkhart, criticizes tariffs

Joe Comartin

ELKHART — U.S. tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel has a negative impact on both countries and clashes with the history of the two countries living peacefully side-by-side on the world’s longest border, said Canadian Consul General in Detroit, Michigan, Joe Comartin, when he visited Elkhart on Thursday.

Comartin, who assumed the office on Dec. 1, spent three days in Indiana to speak with politicians and business leaders and made a last stop in Elkhart before heading back to Detroit.

He said one point of the trip, given his recent appointment, was for him to put a a face to the name of long-term contacts of the consulate.

“But the more important one was to reach out to both political people and civil leaders of industry and the business community ... to talk to them about the situation with the ratification of the trade agreement and seek their support in pressing the White House to lift the tariffs against Canada and Mexico,” he said.

The Trump administration introduced a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum on June 1, 2018. Canada, among other countries, has since created retaliatory tariffs.

Later that year, leaders of the U.S., Mexico and Canada signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), a trade agreement that supporters believe is more appropriate for modern markets than the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The USMCA has yet to be ratified by any of the countries’ legislatures, which must happen before it can take effect. Comartin worries that might never happen.

“I’m somewhat pessimistic about it getting ratified,” he said. “We see two problems. One, we’ve taken a pretty firm position that we’re not going to ratify unless the tariffs are lifted on steel and aluminum. And that has now been coupled by a timeline reality. We’re having our federal election in October of ‘19.”

That means the earliest time Canada will realistically ratify is the summer of 2020, according to Comartin.

Though this could seem like just an international issue, it has a local impact.

“We’re a significant market for the RVs coming out of this area,” Comartin said.

He said he believes there are also Canadian suppliers that would like to get into the Elkhart market, and vice versa, but can’t make much financial sense of it during the current trade circumstances.

In order to impose the tariffs, President Donald Trump argued that the import of metals pose a national security threat, thereby circumventing the conventional method for imposing tariffs through Congress.

“When we hear that we’re somehow being accused of being a security threat to the United States, it really is very . . . well, it’s very offensive to us,” said Comartin. “I talk about a dent in the relationship between Canada and the U.S.”

The 71-year-old diplomat and former politician said that in the time he has followed the relationship between the two countries, it has not been worse than now.

“Since 1814, our two countries have not have any suggestions of security issues between,” he said, citing the War of 1812 and a time when Canada wasn’t its own country and Indiana wasn’t one of the United States.

Still, he said, many in the United States come at this issue from the same side as the Canadian government.

On his three-day trip, the consul general met with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and senior staff from Sen. Todd Young’s office. He said both, as well as U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2, had been very supportive of efforts to lift the recent tariffs between the two countries. 

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus

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