Every five years or so, an agreement expires, the rhetoric heats up and jobs in the B.C. forest industry seem to be in jeopardy, including those in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region.
Negotiations for a new deal to regulate Canadian lumber exports to the U.S. are continuing as the protection of the latest softwood lumber agreement expired last week.
As of Thursday, the U.S. industry was free to launch new unfair trade actions against Canada, although new tariffs can’t be imposed until six months after a formal complaint is filed. With most U.S. lumber from Canada exports coming from B.C., the temporary period of free trade may be the calm before the storm for the B.C. industry.
The Canadian and U.S. governments issued a joint statement Wednesday promising to continue talks towards a “durable and equitable solution for North American softwood lumber producers, downstream industries and consumers.”
That solution may have to wait until after the U.S. election in November, with a campaign marked by anti-trade rhetoric from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Most of the forests in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region are privately held, as opposed to Crown land.
“There are a lot of private forests on the east side of Vancouver Island and your readership is right in the heart of it,” said Rod Bealing, the executive director of the Private Forest Landowners Association. Companies that own the forests around here include Island Timberlands and TimberWest.
“It generates a lot of jobs, a lot of tax revenue,” said Bealing. “It (the trade dispute) could threaten a lot of that economic activity.”
The companies who own the forests use the timber for lumber, veneers and log exports. More than 5,000 people in B.C. derive their employment from private forests and the majority of those jobs are on Vancouver Island.
Whatever the solution to the trade dispute, it will not be free trade in lumber. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed in June that a new agreement would be “designed to maintain Canadian exports at or below an agreed-upon U.S. market share to be negotiated.”
— With files from Tom Fletcher