Softwood lumber dispute could have been avoided

Like many of you, I was shocked and dismayed by the Trump government’s attacks on our softwood lumber industry.

Wayne Stetski

Wayne Stetski

Like many of you, I was shocked and dismayed by the Trump government’s attacks on our softwood lumber industry.

If you haven’t been following this story, here’s a brief summary:

An American trade tribunal, pressured by American lumber companies, decided that because Canadian forests are on crown land the government is providing an “unfair” subsidy to our industry. As a result, President Trump – who only a few months ago pledged his support for trade with Canada – decided to punish us with duties of up to 24 per cent on Canadian softwood lumber imports to the U.S. More penalties will follow in June.

The Canadian lumber industry employs over 200,000 people from coast to coast, most of them in British Columbia.  Many of those jobs are at risk if our ability to export to the United States is cut off.

How did it come to this? Canada and the U.S. have had treaties over softwood lumber for many years. The most recent treaty expired on October 12, 2015. The Conservative government at the time, and the current Liberal government, both failed to sign a new treaty with the Obama administration, which was apparently prepared to negotiate a deal.

According to a recent report on the CBC, “the Obama administration was on the verge of signing a new softwood lumber deal with Canada but the pact fell through when someone on the Canadian side felt a better deal could be reached with the incoming Trump administration.”

When the Trump administration came in, they decided that softwood lumber was a vulnerable sector they could use to strike better terms in the next NAFTA negotiations.

In my opinion, the Americans are acting like bullies on this matter and we must stand up to them.

Some of the ideas that have been suggested include shutting down our pipelines and cutting the U.S. off Canadian oil; banning American beef imports; stopping the export of raw logs.

I think this last idea has a lot of merit. As we know, the Canadian economy has little to gain when we export raw logs instead of finished lumber. Better yet, we should increase our capacity to use that lumber in finished products and keep the jobs here in Canada and Kootenay-Columbia.

Too often, Canada is seen as a source of primary resources, rather than a manufacturing powerhouse. That’s a problem, because as a nation we receive much less value for our raw wood, ore, and other natural resources than we do for finished products.

Our federal and provincial governments must work together to improve our manufacturing sector. We could be producing paper, furniture, pre-fab buildings, shakes and shingles…the list goes on, and it would grow with funding for innovation for our mills and manufacturers.

However, that is a long term solution. In the meantime, it’s important that Canada use every avenue available to fight the Americans on this front.

The United States exports more goods to Canada than to China, Japan, and South Korea. Canada is the top trading partner of 35 U.S. states.  Sure, they’re important to us, but we’re important to them, too.

And we have complaints. The U.S. notoriously dumps drywall on the Canadian market at cut-throat prices. American potatoes, too, have been dumped in British Columbia, forcing the Canadian government to impose duties.

What do you think Canada should do to counter the unfair tariffs on softwood lumber?

I’ll be exploring this issue in an upcoming mailing to your home. It will provide you with an opportunity to tell me your thoughts about this important issue.



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