Federal government launches task force for U.S. lumber battle

In order to co-ordinate Canada’s efforts in the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S., the federal government has created a new federal-provincial softwood lumber task force.

The body, chaired by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, is expected to assess current federal and provincial programming and co-ordinate initiatives to promote innovation, market diversification and transformation of the forest sector.

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Carr said with the spectre of a long dispute with the U.S. looming, the new task force will work to strengthen the forest industry through finding new markets and innovating.

The 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement expired in October 2015. In the absence of a trade agreement, the U.S. lumber industry last fall filed anti-dumping and countervailing duty complaints against the Canadian industry. In them, the U.S. industry alleges the Canadian softwood industry is unfairly subsidized and dumps lumber into the U.S. market.

As it has over the years, the Canadian government and industry disputed the charges. Over the years that stance has led to drawn-out disputes and, in some cases, punishing tariffs charged on Canadian exports to the U.S.

The task force is being welcomed by B.C.’s lumber industry.

“Any time we can add focus to the file is a positive,” said Western Forest Products chief executive Don Demens. “That being said, we have always gotten very good support from the federal government.

“I believe [Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia] Freeland is well briefed and knowledgeable and her team is working diligently to find a resolution, and in the absence of an agreement getting ready for litigation.”

The B.C. Lumber Trade Council said coordinating efforts is critical as it becomes clear what the impact of a dispute with the U.S. could look like.

“We appreciate that the federal government [has] made softwood lumber a top priority. They, along with industry and provincial governments, are doing everything possible to defend our interests on softwood lumber,” said BCLTC president Susan Yurkovich.

B.C. Minister of Forests Steve Thomson welcomed the new task force, noting softwood is top of mind in the country’s top lumber producing province.

“Which is why Premier Christy Clark appointed David Emerson as B.C.’s special trade envoy to the U.S. Mr. Emerson will be working closely with the federal government on ensuring Americans are aware of how B.C. softwood lumber products support the U.S. economy and how unwarranted duties impact their dream of home ownership,” he said.

According to numbers in this week’s provincial budget, B.C. accounted for 61 per cent of Canada’s $7.5-billion softwood lumber trade with the U.S.

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