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May 22, 2019

US nears metal tariffs deal with Canada, Mexico: official

US nears metal tariffs deal with Canada, Mexico: official
'US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies before a Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing on the proposed budget estimates and justification for FY2020 for the Treasury Department in Washington May 15, 2019.' - By: AFP/File NICHOLAS KAMM

The United States is close to resolving its differences with Mexico and Canada over metal tariffs, US Treasury Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday.

The steep US tariffs on steel and aluminum that Washington imposed last year on national security grounds have become a major stumbling block on the road to ratifying a new North American trade pact that the three countries negotiated last year.

In Senate testimony on Wednesday, Mnuchin also said he expected that US negotiators would return to Beijing to pursue stalled talks aimed at resolving the US-China trade war.

"I think we are close to an understanding with Mexico and Canada," Mnuchin said during testimony on the Treasury Department's budget.

US lawmakers have likewise resisted bringing the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to a vote so long as the tariffs remain in place for Mexico and Canada, traditionally major US suppliers of steel and aluminum.

But US officials have reportedly sought to persuade Mexico City and Ottawa to accept export quotas in return for lifting the metal tariffs for their countries.

Mnuchin said Wednesday this was likely to be worked out soon.

"I've spoken to the finance ministers," he said. "I can assure you it is a priority for us."

With US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Mnuchin has led the US delegation in 11 rounds of shuttle diplomacy aimed at resolving the US-China trade war.

But hostilities resumed last week when the United States accused China of backsliding on major commitments already made in the talks and President Donald Trump more than doubled duty rates on $200 billion in Chinese merchandise imports.

China responded in kind on Monday, raising duty rates on $60 billion in US exports.

"I think we had a constructive meeting with the vice premier," Mnuchin told lawmakers Wednesday, referring to last week's brief meetings with Chinese trade envoy Liu He.

"There's still a lot of work to do," he added. "As I've said, my expectation is we will most likely go to Beijing at some point in the near future to continue those discussions and I think it's President Trump's expectation to meet with President Xi at the G20 at the end of June."

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