WASHINGTON — President Trump announced Thursday that he was reimposing a tariff on Canadian aluminum to help struggling American producers, a step that is likely to incite retaliation and worsen ties with Canada just one month after the countries’ new trade deal went into effect.
Speaking at a Whirlpool factory in Clyde, Ohio, Mr. Trump said that he had signed a proclamation earlier on Thursday that would reimpose the levy on Canada, accusing the country of “taking advantage of us as usual.”
“To be a strong nation, America must be a manufacturing nation and not be led by a bunch of fools,” the president said. “That means protecting our national industrial base.”
Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union in early 2018, prompting those countries to respond with their own tariffs on American goods. The levies on imports from Canada and Mexico were not lifted until the following year, when the countries reached an agreement as part of the negotiations toward a new North American trade deal.
But the United States retained the right to reinstate them if it observed a spike in metal imports, which Mr. Trump cited on Thursday.
“My administration agreed to lift those tariffs in return for a promise from the Canadian government that its aluminum industry would not flood our country with exports and kill all our aluminum jobs, which is exactly what they did,” Mr. Trump said Thursday. “Canadian aluminum producers have broken that commitment.”
For months, American and Canadian officials have debated whether Canada’s rising imports violate that agreement or constitute a surge. Imports of Canadian aluminum have risen since the tariffs were lifted last year, but they remain below levels seen within the last few years.
The American aluminum industry has struggled to compete in recent years with producers in countries like China, Russia, Iceland, the United Arab Emirates and Canada that offer generous state subsidies or benefit from cheap electricity. Today, only a handful of American aluminum smelters still operate.
Two American companies with domestic aluminum capacity, Century Aluminum and Magnitude 7 Metals, have lobbied intensely for the tariffs to be reimposed. In a statement Thursday, Michael Bless, the chief executive of Century Aluminum, said the move “demonstrates this administration’s continued dedication to restoring the U.S. aluminum industry” and “helps to secure continued domestic production of this vital strategic material.”
But the rest of the aluminum industry, which has operations spread around the globe, including in Canada, has fought against the measure. The multitude of industries that use aluminum to make products including cars, beer cans and washing machines have also argued against the levies, saying they increase their costs and make their products less competitive globally.
In June, executives from more than 15 of the world’s largest aluminum companies, including Alcoa, Constellium and Novelis, sent a letter to the Trump administration arguing against the tariffs.
“Fully 97 percent of U.S. aluminum industry jobs are in mid-and-downstream production and processing,” the letter read. “These jobs depend on a mix of domestic and imported primary aluminum, including from countries like Canada.”
Jim McGreevy, the chief executive of the Beer Institute, a trade association of beer producers and importers, said his group strongly opposed the decision.
“Since the implementation of aluminum tariffs in 2018, the American beverage industries have paid more than $582 million in tariffs,” he said. “Increased aluminum premiums due to tariffs increase the cost of beer production and force brewers to make difficult business decisions — especially amidst a global pandemic that has reduced overall sales while simultaneously increasing demand for aluminum cans.”
In a statement, Myron Brilliant, the executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called the move “a step in the wrong direction” and urged the administration to reconsider.
“These tariffs will raise costs for American manufacturers, are opposed by most U.S. aluminum producers and will draw retaliation against U.S. exports — just as they did before,” he said.