Finance Minister Bill Morneau says Canada wants to enhance its relationship with China. Photo: Asia Times

New tariffs on steel and aluminum imposed by the United States will not affect renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau said after attending an event in Hong Kong on Thursday.

“What we are seeing is that the US is thinking about steel and aluminum tariffs with Canada [and Mexico] exempted from that discussion. That was a recognition of our strong trading relationship,” Morneau said.

“NAFTA renegotiations are actually going well… we are trying to solve some challenges. We are quite optimistic that we will get there,” he said during a lunch hosted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. He declined to give a timeline for the Nafta talks but said Canada was looking to move things forward as rapidly as possible.

Morneau told reporters he does not think the world is having a trade war.

“We always see that there is a need to keep up-to-date in terms of how we can ensure we trade well together. What we are seeing right now in North America is the refreshing of the NAFTA arrangement. We are working hard in that regard,” he said. “Around the world, you will see a continuing effort for all countries to figure out how we can improve what already exists.”

On March 8, US President Donald Trump signed an order imposing tariffs of 25% and 10% respectively on steel and aluminum imports. The move was seen as a Trump administration tactic to protect US steel and aluminum makers and reduce large trade deficits with countries such as China.

On the same day, Washington also said that some countries – close allies and trade partners such as Canada and Mexico – may get an exemption from the new tariffs on national security grounds.

On Wednesday, Canada’s chief NAFTA negotiator Steve Verheul told media in Hong Kong that Canada, Mexico and the US were still “quite a distance away” from reaching an agreement on key aspects in their free-trade agreement talks.

After visiting Hong Kong, Morneau will head to the mainland to speak at an event hosted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai on April 2 (next Tuesday).

“The China-Canada relationship is strong. We are trying to enhance the relationship so that we will have more investments between Canada and China, as well as more people-to-people ties,” he said.

“We want to enhance our relationship with China to achieve mutual success,” he said, adding that the two countries can cooperate in the tourism and education sectors.

“We have been very successful in the education sector with a large number of Chinese nationals getting educated in Canada… We have also been successful in the tourism sector with the number of Chinese tourists really expanding dramatically in Canada.”

Asked if an influx of tourists and foreign students would create social problems such as high-property prices in Canada, Moreau said, “It’s exactly the opposite. More Chinese coming to Canada and more Canadians coming to China will enhance people-to-people ties. We think it’s a great foundation to build a better relationship in the long-term.”