By Roy Whyte
The American-Canadian softwood lumber row has been dragging on since April 2001. In that time the 27% duties imposed have resulted in many mills being closed and thousands of hard working Canadians thrown out of work – mostly in lumber rich British Columbia. The towns and regions that depend on these mills and the income they generate have also been suffering considerably. Since the imposed duties there has been little movement with the duties collected reaching over one billion dollars.
Our own Federal Government while embroiled in its own version of Survivor has done sweet nothing to alleviate the situation for those people, towns, and companies effected.
The Provincial Governments have also weighed in but have also meet with little success.
The so-called Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) had allowed our lumber companies to export a quota of up to 14.7 billion board feet of lumber to the United States duty free each and every year. If the board feet was surpassed then a small fee was to be attached.
So what happened to the agreement? Well the lumber barons of some states using the soft sounding moniker of the U.S. Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports heavily lobbied the easily swayed U.S. Department of Commerce to smack sanctions onto Canada over our exports of softwood lumber.
Our recourse is to sit down and hammer out an agreement with the US government over the issue but little has been achieved to date. Our other and seemingly only recourse is to take this issue to the World Trade Organization.
The World Trade Organization has set three criteria that must be meet in order for exports to be deemed as “dumping” and duties imposed upon that particular good. These criteria include; that “dumped” goods do exist, material injury must be present to the domestic industry and lastly that there is a link between the “dumped” goods and the material injury to the domestic industry.
Under these generic guidelines almost any export could be construed to be “dumped” if enough lobbying is to take place. See the recent duties slammed on Canada over wheat exports and the potential for the same on blueberries. In total Canada has proceeded through the WTO six times over lumber duties.
To date 34% of the United States lumber consumption is Canadian wood. With this US President George Bush has declared "We must begin to close this homeownership gap by dismantling the barriers that prevent minorities from owning a piece of the American dream." Huh? How can this be achieved when the cost of lumber has INCREASED in the United States as a result of the duties imposed? If they are serious in their assertions they must meet us in good faith over this issue.
The US Government must know that there are 30 times as many American workers building homes as there are workers in the softwood lumber industry. So they stand to lose as much as we do.
This from Susan Petniunas of the Alliance of American Consumers for Affordable Homes “We urge that, while you work to protect your industry and its markets, you and your colleagues work to protect the interests of U.S. consumers and lumber-dependent industries (your customers) that employ 7,000,000 workers by continuing to urge that the two governments find a long-term solution that does not harm U.S. lumber consumers of affordable housing.
Moreover, it is imperative that the government’s exclude, from any resolution, any provision that would impose a tax, quota, or other government–mandated cost increases on U.S. consumers. We urge Canada not to negotiate away what we believe will be WTO and NAFTA victories, as it has in prior disputes”
Presently Canada and America engage in over $1 billion dollars in bi-lateral trade under the NAFTA agreement. We need to find more common ground and move away from these disagreements as both nations are suffering because of it. If more people like Susan Petniunas inside America and Canada both continue to voice their strong support and opposition to the duties we may just get this resolved in a fashion agreeable to both parties.