Mattis says tariffs won't hurt NATO ties

Mattis says tariffs won't hurt NATO ties
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Defense Secretary James Mattis said Wednesday that he does not believe European and Canadian anger over U.S. tariffs will hurt military relations with NATO, The Associated Press reported.

“Right now I don't see that,” he told reporters en route to Brussels for NATO defense minister meetings ahead of an alliance summit next month.

The Trump administration last week lifted exemptions on the European Union, Canada and Mexico, effectively imposing a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum and a 25 percent tariff on imported steel from those countries.

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Asked whether he thinks the tariffs will hurt security ties with NATO partners, including Canada, Mattis said alliance discussions will at times be “rocky,” but that countries must understand that the new policy is about “fair and reciprocal” trade.

He added that he thinks it’s premature to call the tariffs a trade war.

Canadian and European Union officials have made clear they don’t see it that way.

After the tariffs were announced last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the tariffs “totally unacceptable.” 

“These tariffs are an affront to the long-standing security partnership between Canada and the United States, and in particular, to the thousands of Canadians who have fought and died alongside American comrades-in-arms,” Trudeau said.  

Canada and the European Union have also threatened retaliatory duties on American goods.

Trump currently is seeking to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, and the tariffs have been seen as part of his strategy to put pressure on those countries to make concessions.

Mattis has carefully toed the line in speaking about the tariffs.

In a February memo he agreed with the administration that the imported metals are a national security issue, but noted that he favored targeted tariffs. A sweeping policy would have a “negative impact on our key allies,” and “impair” national security, he wrote. 

Mattis will be in Brussels to discuss shoring up defenses to push back on Russian aggression. He told reporters that NATO is likely to support plans to establish two new NATO military commands and approve Mattis’s so-called 30-30-30-30 plan.

Under the plan, by 2020 NATO would have 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 warships ready to deploy within 30 days.

Mattis added that NATO seeks to improve relations with Moscow but it “has been exceedingly difficult.”