Canada is not an enemy of the state. Mexico is not an enemy of the state.
Those were the messages of trade delegates from the two countries on some of the hottest issues roiling the industry: North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations, newly imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum and the Trump administration's Section 232 investigation into whether auto imports are a threat to U.S. security.
"The steel and aluminum tariffs, allegedly to protect U.S. security, have hit a raw nerve in Canada," said Colin Bird, Canada's minister-counsellor of economic and trade policy, Wednesday at the seminars.
The idea that Canada could "pose a national security threat challenges our very sense of the relationship," which has included Canadian soldiers fighting and dying alongside American troops in major U.S. conflicts, he said.
Canada is America's largest export market for steel, accounting for more than 50 percent of U.S. steel exports, according to Bird.
"We have to end the 232 national security tariffs on steel and aluminum and make sure that 232 tariffs are never imposed on autos and auto parts," Bird said. "Tariffs on steel and aluminum are, simply put, attacks on the U.S. auto industry and ultimately attacks on U.S. consumers."
Guillermo Malpica Soto, head of the Trade and NAFTA Office of Mexico's Ministry of Economy, echoed those remarks.
"Mexican parts are key to the U.S. auto industry competitiveness," he said. "We believe that integration has been beneficial for the three countries and NAFTA has played an important role in this integration."
According to Soto, U.S. parts on average represent 38 percent of each vehicle exported from Mexico.
General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are responsible for 45 percent of Mexico's vehicle production, he said.
"We can no longer talk about a Mexican product or a U.S. product or a Canadian product," Soto said. "We no longer buy and sell products. We share production of those products."
Both trade leaders have been part of each round of NAFTA negotiations with the U.S. in the past year. They said they support a modernized NAFTA. But a U.S. exit from the 1994 trade agreement, which the U.S. has threatened to do, would not benefit any of the countries.
The Canadian and Mexican representatives said there has been constructive dialogue about NAFTA, but many things remain uncertain and both countries are ready to retaliate, as they already have, to any increases in export costs or 232 tariffs.
No one from the U.S. government would agree to participate in the discussion, according to Kristin Dziczek, CAR vice president for industry, labor and economics, who moderated the presentation.
The Trump administration argues that tariffs, including a potential 25 percent on imported vehicles, will force companies to concentrate more manufacturing in the U.S. But experts have said duties will lead to higher new-vehicle prices, fewer sales, cutbacks in r&d and other investments and lost employment.
Eric Kulisch contributed to this report.