June 30, 2020

Potential Section 232 Tariffs post USMCA

An Analysis on Potential Section 232 Tariffs After the Implementation of USMCA

As we move forward with the implementation of the USMCA free trade agreement tomorrow, we also look at potential upcoming trade barriers which might adversely affect the relationship between these three countries.

The USMCA’s purpose is to liberalize trade between the three countries to create a fair playing field, but the US is now looking at reinstating the Canadian aluminum tariff due to rising exports into the country.

This move might incite retaliation from our northern neighbor considering the agreement does not contain language prohibiting the levying of Section 232 tariffs on aluminum but is instead addressed by various side letters between the three countries.

In terms of who has the ace up their sleeve, it is important to keep in mind that the USMCA agreement advances US agriculture interests in Canada for dairy, poultry, and egg exports, including market access gains for new tariff rate quotas. Great news for the American farmer and agribusiness, but a retaliatory move by Canada could jeopardize this benefit, which has been thought of as one of the better parts of the trade agreement. Canada is the largest destination for US agricultural exports, which supports thousands of jobs in the United States. Canada also sets dairy prices based on the average cost of production handled through a regulated tariff-quote system (TRQs). As set forth in the agreement, Canada is supposed to provide new tariff rate quotes exclusively for the United States.

Canada was already at a disadvantage under these terms as the USMCA opens almost 4% of its dairy market to the US- an industry that was available solely to Canada’s domestic market. The timing of the potential application of aluminum tariffs to Canadian originating goods also coincides with the fact that the dairy industry’s quota year begins this summer in August. The fact that the USMCA goes into effect on July 1, also means that the 12-month period the dairy industry was counting on to adjust to the new terms of the USMCA will actually be cut to one month.

In regards as to how Section 232 is addressed in the USMCA side letters, the US will need to provide Canada with a 60-day consultation period before Section 232 tariffs can be applied. During that 60-day period, the US and Canada will have the opportunity to negotiate based on the needs of the industry and trading patterns. An important part of the side letter is that it states that if the United States takes a measure under Section 232 that is inconsistent with the USMCA, NAFTA 1994, and the WTO Agreement, Canada may take a measure of equivalent effect in response.

Considering how USMCA addresses agriculture and dispute resolutions, a potential retaliatory move could involve Canada taking its dairy concessions under the TRQ system and falling short of the allocations promised under the USMCA, a move that could hurt the US farm industry.

If this does happen, both countries have the right under Chapter 20 of the agreement to take further action but it does not guarantee immediate recourse. Considering the 60-day negotiation period addressed in the USMCA’s side letters, the likely conclusion of this matter will end up being further negotiation to forgo additional tariffs as an additional 10% tariff is not sustainable for either country both benefit from an integrated aluminum market in several industries.

If you would like to know more about the USMCA, please reach out to our Trade Advisory team at CWTSConsulting@craneww.com.


You can listen in to our webinar on USMCA, with Vice-President, Customs & Trade Services, Alexandra Kleinschmidt for all the details here

USMCA certificate of origin template is available for you to download here


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