Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Rio Tinto Confident U.S. Will Treat Canada Differently on Trade

Updated on
  • U.S. knows Canada ‘critical’ to supply chain, defense: Barrios
  • Uncertainty about Nafta, tariffs threaten investment, he says

The head of Rio Tinto Group’s aluminum division is confident the Trump administration will recognize that Canada must be viewed differently when considering import tariffs on the metal and in Nafta talks.

Alf Barrios

Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

“There’s a clear recognition of the strategic importance of the Canadian industry to the American manufacturing base,” Alf Barrios, chief executive of Rio Tinto’s aluminum division, said Wednesday in a phone interview. That view was expressed to him in conversations within the last few weeks, he said. “It is different than the other importing countries.”

In January, U.S. President Donald Trump received the findings of the eight-month “Section 232” investigation into whether aluminum imports pose a threat to national security. The results haven’t been released but could lead to U.S. tariffs and/or quotas on aluminum imports. The president is also looking at a Section 232 study on steel imports.

Meanwhile, the U.S., Canada and Mexico continue to hammer away at a reworked North American Free Trade Agreement.

Barrios said he has been talking to stakeholders about both trade issues in Ottawa and Washington, including meeting with representatives the Commerce, Defense and Energy Departments. He said it’s clear that U.S. officials grasp the importance of Canada to the North American supply chain and understand that its resource capabilities have long been integral to continental defense.

“There’s quite a widespread group of people that are giving us that sense that these clearly differentiating factors of Canada, when it comes to Section 232, are known and are acknowledged as being things that need to be taken into account in the investigation outcome,” Barrios said.

Any trade decision that disrupts the Canada-U.S. supply chain could be “quite detrimental,” while the current uncertainty over the trading relationship is bad for business, he said.

“We need to move fast and we need to make sure we provide that credibility and certainty to the industry regarding Nafta and Section 232 so we can actually continue to invest in growth,” Barrios said.

— With assistance by David Stringer, and Joe Deaux

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