New U.S. tariffs point to the need for a 21st century Hyde Park Declaration

  • National Newswatch

Although the Canadian government has dismissed the recent U.S. threat to impose Section 232 tariffs on aluminum production as nothing more than protectionism masquerading as national security, there may be some validity to the overall concern of keeping overseas production out of the strategic supply-chains.  Regardless of the legality of Section 232, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that sourcing critical materials overseas carries serious national security risks — and keeping the North American strategic supply-chains firmly in North American hands is in the national security interest of both Canada and the United States.In the midst of the Second World War, Prime Minister MacKenzie King and President Franklin Roosevelt came together to sign the Hyde Park Declaration of 1941, the mutual North American defence agreement that ensured two things: a reciprocal scheme of war material production between the two countries and that the production of said materials be manufactured in the respective country with the most inherent capability to do so. The agreement accelerated and improved Roosevelt's “Arsenal of Democracy,” eliminating redundancy and increasing the efficient manufacturing of war materials for the Allies.Fast forward to 2020 and we find ourselves in a similar situation where, faced with a different challenge than actual war – the global COVID-19 pandemic – countries such as Canada are learning that foreign, overseas sources cannot necessarily supply the products they need in the time required during a national or global emergency. Rightly or wrongly, this was something the Trump administration appeared to acknowledge well before the crisis, using section 232 tariffs to discourage foreign supply chains and dumping of cheap imports to ensure the efficient production capacity required for the defence and the security of the United States.What is wrong from Trump's 232 strategy, however, and what makes the President's recent announcement of the impending imposition of a 10 per cent tariff on Canadian aluminum all the more perplexing, is that Canadian aluminum is absolutely critical to the U.S. defence industry and supply chain. A point the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada raised immediately in response to the tariff threat.More critically, and further to this point, putting tariffs on Canadian aluminum goes entirely against the two aforementioned underlying principles that made the Hyde Park Declaration work. Both nations have the reciprocal ability to produce aluminum for the critical strategic supply chains in North America but Canada, having the more efficient and inherent production capability for aluminum smelting, offers the United States the most cost-effective option.To unpack the latter, one need only look at the historical development of aluminum smelting in each country. For both, it is directly tied to geological features, power, and the resulting impact on cost.  Smelting aluminum requires enormous amounts of electrical power; simply put, the lower the cost of power the more cost efficient the smelter can be. It is no coincidence then that Canada's largest smelters can be found in British Columbia and Quebec, both of whom have been blessed with geography that includes tremendous potential for hydroelectrical capacity.In direct contrast, Kentucky or Missouri – the locations of the two remaining aluminum smelters in the United States – do not have these same advantages. In both states, electrical generation is primarily done by combustion of fossil fuels, mostly coal. When these U.S. aluminum smelting operations were established there can be no doubt that the close proximity to abundant coal resources was seen as a strategic benefit, but as power generation technology has advanced and improved, the costs associated with its extraction, processing, and combustion for power generation has become less cost effective compared with other methods.Clearly in the case of aluminum smelting operations this difference in efficiency between hydro and coal sourced power is dramatic and it is creating the perception that there is an “unfair advantage” for Canadian aluminum production. The reality is that there is an advantage, but it is not unfair. It is simply an advantage of location to cheap and plentiful electrical power. Just as one may find that golf courses with grand vistas and natural terrain are more successful than those that do not have these features, any successful global restate developer (including one currently living in a white house) can recognize the basics of this situation are not those of government subsidies but the familiar adage – “location, location, location.”In North America, we are blessed to have the material resources required to operate our democratic nations free from threats of supply interruption or pressure from authoritarian powers across the globe; however, in order for that to be true, we must cooperate and work together for the shared safety, security, and prosperity of our peoples. That is why these new aluminium tariffs, and those applied previously in 2018 to both Canadian steel and aluminum, are deeply troubling and, once more, illogical.Viewing this dispute through a national security lens might yield a more productive result for Canada than fighting it on the grounds of logic or international trade law.  Yes, Canada might be "right" that Section 232 is baseless and should be torn up, but perhaps a more pragmatic approach would be to use Trumps' national security argument to press for a new approach to the North American strategic supply-chains.Canada should endorse the U.S. administration's use of 232 tariffs on overseas production of strategically significant resources, including steel and aluminum production, doing so to ensure the capacity to produce metals that are melted and poured in North America and allowing those producers to be able to compete within North America on free and equal basis. Free market access within our shared continent only makes the Canada, United States and Mexico more able to cooperate and safeguard against authoritarian adversaries and support our allies overseas.In these most uncertain times, we have a responsibility to work together to protect, defend, and make stronger our commonly democratic and free North American continent through a 21st century Hyde Park Declaration.Robert Dimitrieff is President of Patriot Forge Co., which produces forged and machined components from ferrous and nonferrous alloys for critical infrastructure supply chains including the U.S defense sector.