Déjà vu: 2017 Softwood Lumber challenge – By Ray Hudson

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David Emerson appointed special Envoy for BC

Forestry envoy meetingIn January, the U.S. International Trade Commission announced a finding of ‘injury’ in the Softwood Lumber dispute, the U.S. Department of Commerce will continue its investigation into Canada and Canadian softwood lumber producers for what can only be described as unfounded allegations of unfair trade practices.

“Time after time these charges have proven false,” said BC Forests Minister, Steve Thomson, “as Canada has never lost before NAFTA and World Trade Organization tribunals. B.C.’s forest policies are trade compliant. This issue can be resolved only with a fair, negotiated trade agreement with the United States, not more litigation. Despite numerous discussions during 2016 between Canada and the U.S., attempts to reach an agreement were unsuccessful.”

Leading the talks for BC is Special Envoy David Emerson, who is highly experienced in the industry, serving as CEO of lumber giant Canfor, and in government, holding several federal cabinet portfolios for Liberal and Conservative governments, including industry, foreign affairs and trade. In 2006, it was Emerson who signed the last softwood lumber agreement ending the fourth Canada-U.S. lumber dispute.

Asked if he thought the issue was driven out of the President’s office, Emerson replied, “It has never been an issue driven out of the President’s office, rather by the US Protectionist Lumber Coalition. It’s never been about the validity of British Columbia’s timber pricing system or the timber management system. It has always been about a protectionist group that has accumulated tremendous power over the years, particularly in Congress, using the devices that are legal under NAFTA, and legal in the United States, to shakedown Canadian Industry and try to get Canadian Industry and governments to make them more profitable and to increase the price of timber holdings in the U.S.”

David McNaughton, Canada’s Ambassador to the US added, “This issue has been about protectionism. I remember when Senator Wyden wrote a letter to the president talking about how Canada was subsidizing the lumber, and we fought back right away and said that in reality, every time we have taken this to NAFTA dispute resolution, we had always won. We are not subsidizing our lumber. This is just protectionism and I think we’ve got an opportunity to get a deal that’s good for British Columbia and good for Canada.”

U.S. housing starts are forecast to see continued increases. The U.S. can only produce about 65% of its domestic requirements and penalties on our lumber only hurt housing affordability for middle-class Americans by raising building costs, clearly not a concern for the American Softwood Lumber producers.

“The changes in the United States could signal a change in attitude in how important it is to get an agreement on softwood lumber for both sides,” said Premier Christy Clark, “and I’m confident with Ambassador McNaughton, David Emerson, and Forests Minister Thomson, along with a united industry in British Columbia, we have the team we need to be able to get an agreement.  We are going to fight for those sixty thousand jobs, and we’re going to fight for those 140 communities that depend on an industry that ships $4.5 billion of product to the United States.”