By Steve Scherer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will move quickly to ratify the new North American trade pact, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Saturday, a day after the United States agreed to lift tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium.
U.S. President Donald Trump had imposed the global "Section 232" tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium in March 2018 on both Canada and Mexico on national security grounds, invoking a 1962 Cold War-era trade law.
The metals tariffs were a major irritant for Canada and Mexico and had caused them to halt progress towards ratification of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the trilateral trade deal signed last year which will replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
"We were very clear that as long as the 232 tariffs were there it would be very, very hard for us to ratify the new NAFTA, and that is why we did not table the legislation," Freeland said in an interview broadcast by CBC radio.
"Now that that big obstacle is lifted, full steam ahead," she said, without saying when the agreement would be presented to parliament, which closes down in June ahead of an October national election.
"I hope all members of the house will support this agreement," she added.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Friday he would meet with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on May 30 to discuss "advancing" ratification.
While several U.S. Democrats applauded removal of the tariffs, some on Friday said USMCA was not yet ready for their support. Freeland said Canada was in the process of reaching out to American Democrats.
"We have been meeting with many leading Democrats to talk to them about the new NAFTA," Freeland said. "We have a good, strong conversation happening."
Despite the breakthrough on tariffs and the USMCA agreement last year, Freeland said Canada was still worried about U.S. protectionism.
"I am still concerned about U.S. protectionism and I think it would be naive for anyone to think that there is any kind of permanent safety or security. The reality is that this U.S. administration is openly, explicitly, and proudly protectionist," Freeland said.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by James Dalgleish)