It has been a wild time for Canada’s steel sector, set alight earlier this spring by US President Donald Trump’s announcement of potential new import tariffs on steel and aluminum.

In Hamilton, Canada’s steel city, threats to the sector are felt acutely. Approximately 10,000 individuals in Hamilton are directly employed in primary manufacturing or fabricating.

At the time, in the face of potentially disastrous trade disruptions, local civic and industry leaders, and federal representatives Bob Bratina MP, Filomena Tassi MP and Hon. Karina Gould MP, rallied together to support Canadian steelmaking.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Hamilton in March to meet with local stakeholders including the Hamilton Port Authority (HPA), to express support for the region’s steel sector and its workers. Hamilton’s Chamber of Commerce took an important leadership role, representing large and small Hamilton businesses who would be impacted, and sharing those stories with media across North America. 

In April, an initial exemption for Canada offered some relief, but it was an uncomfortably close call, and made clear the need for increased awareness of the benefits of free, fair and integrated trade within North America.

As a port authority, HPA brought the perspective of a facilitator of trade and promoter of an integrated Great Lakes regional economy. “As a Great Lakes port, we have a front-row view on how integrated the Canada-US economies are,” said Ian Hamilton, HPA’s President & CEO. “Far from putting up barriers, we should be thinking about the Great Lakes region as a single economic machine.”

In fact, the Great Lakes region accounts for half of all US/Canada bilateral trade. If the Great Lakes region were its own national economy, it would be the third biggest in the world, with 51 million jobs. Each year, there is $278 billion in bilateral U.S.-Canadian trade in the Great Lakes area, and Canada is the best customer of every Great Lakes state.

With NAFTA and other trade discussions ongoing, uncertainty still looms, but local leaders are optimistic. That optimism is borne out in recent investments in manufacturing facilities in Hamilton. In late April, ArcelorMittal Dofasco announced a massive, $151 million upgrade of its hot mill operation as part of an effort by the steelmaker to develop materials that are lighter and more durable.

“We’re hopeful that common sense will continue to prevail,” said Ian Hamilton. “An integrated supply chain creates jobs and benefits economies on both sides of the Canada-US border. The efficiency we create by working together is what allows us to compete globally as partners.”

“Perhaps the upside to all of this anxiety is that there is more awareness now that we are stronger together.”

Hamilton Port in the steel supply chain (2017)

• 3.7 million MT iron ore

• 1.8 million MT coal

Most of this material is shipped to Canada from the US, to be processed here in Hamilton, then used in highly integrated bi-national supply chains like automotive and other manufacturing.