Rolls of steel at ArcelorMittal’s Dofasco plant in Ontario, Canada. Picture: REUTERS
Rolls of steel at ArcelorMittal’s Dofasco plant in Ontario, Canada. Picture: REUTERS

Ottawa — Canada hit back at the US on Friday with retaliatory tariffs on summertime essentials including Florida orange juice, tomato sauce and Kentucky bourbon in its opening salvo in a trade war with President Donald Trump.

As temperatures and tension increase, the measures targeting C$16.6bn ($12.6bn) in US steel, aluminium and consumer goods took effect on Sunday, when Canadians celebrated a holiday and just days before Independence Day in the US amid a heatwave in both countries.

The tit-for-tat duties are a response to punishing US steel and aluminium tariffs imposed at the start of June. Ottawa also unveiled C$2bn in aid for the two sectors.

Ottawa "had no choice but to announce reciprocal countermeasures to the steel and aluminium tariffs that the US imposed on June 1 2018," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Trump in a call on Friday, his office said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the tariffs at a steel facility in Hamilton, Ontario.

"We will not escalate and we will not back down," she said, while noting that this trade action was the strongest Ottawa has taken since the Second World War. But she said the move was made with "regret" and "very much in sorrow, not in anger" against a close ally.

The list of more than 250 American goods subject to Canadian duties — including Florida juice, Wisconsin toilet paper and North Carolina gherkins, which are labour intensive to produce — aim to put pressure on Trump supporters in key states in November’s US midterm elections.

The penalties will add 25% to the cost of US steel and 10% to aluminium and consumer goods. Canada and Mexico were initially exempted from the US metals tariffs — as was the EU — but Trump allowed the duties to take effect after talks stalled to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement.

After the EU unveiled retaliatory tariffs, US trade representative Robert Lighthizer last week lashed out, calling them groundless and illegal.

"Retaliatory tariffs underscore the complete hypocrisy that governs so much of the global trading system," Lighthizer said in a statement.

AFP