Windsor-area business leader supports Trump's steel tariff proposal
Canada is not the problem.
That is the view of Windsor area businessman Barry Zekelman, the CEO of Zekelman Industries, North America's largest independent steel pipe and tube manufacturer.
Zekelman issued a news release last week that supports U.S President Donald Trump’s idea of a 25 per cent tariff for steel and a 10 per cent tariff for aluminum products, even offering his employees a $1,000 annual bonus beginning when Trump’s policy takes effect.
Zekelman tells CTV Windsor the reason he supports the idea is because excess steel is being dumped into North America.
“China is the exact problem,” says Zekelman, who employs more than 2,000 people at plants in both the U.S. and Canada. “China doesn't just do this with the U-S. China does this with Canada, with Europe, with Australia, with Asian nations.”
Zekelman feels President Trump is using the threat of tariffs as a ploy to improve his position at the negotiating table for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“You're our biggest trade partner and we're your biggest trade partner. We shouldn't have these issues. What are the real issues? Let's deal with them right now and let's get this thing done,” says Zekelman. “He's just trying to speed up the process.”
Zekelman appears to know what he is talking about.
On Monday, Trump explicitly linked the fear of tariffs on steel and aluminum to the ongoing negotiation of NAFTA, then his trade czar elaborated: Robert Lighthizer said the U.S. is in a hurry to get an immediate NAFTA deal, and if it happens quickly Canada and Mexico just might avoid tariffs.
"We're not backing down. ... Right now, 100 per cent (chance we proceed with tariffs)," Trump said Monday in the Oval Office. “But it could be a part of NAFTA."
Trump also tweeted that steel and aluminum tariffs would only come off if a new NAFTA is signed, suggesting the tariffs might morph into a leverage play to squeeze Canada and Mexico in the trade negotiations.
Unifor National President Jerry Dias is in Mexico City where round 7 of the NAFTA trade talks are taking place. He released a statement Monday saying if Canada is not exempt from the tariffs, then Canada has no choice but to walk away from the talks.
Essex New Democrat MP Tracey Ramsey was in close contact with business leaders like Zekelman over the weekend. She says it's critical that Canada be exempt from these tariffs.
“We really brought a strong case to the U.S. in understanding not only the integration of that chain but how devastating it will be to the U.S. workers in the steel sector,” says Ramsey.
Matt Marchand, the President of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, says they should be working with the American government to stop countries who are not playing by the rules.
“China is the main culprit. They are dumping steel into our market and in the U.S,” says Marchand. “We want to work with the American and Canadian governments to address that.”
Marchand and other Ontario chambers are drafting a letter on the issue that will be sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week.
Zekelman is hoping a new trade deal is finalized soon.
“I'm hoping for a NAFTA deal that is good for both countries. Let's force this issue. Let's get it done and put this in the waste behind us.”