Canada has new ways to pressure Washington over softwood lumber duties: ambassador

Canada's ambassador to the U.S. says President Biden's plan for affordable housing construction gives Canada new leverage against U.S. tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber, which is except from the CUSMA trade deal.

VANCOUVER — Canada's ambassador to the United States says Canadian officials have new leverage as they urge Washington to negotiate a solution to the long-standing dispute over U.S. duties on softwood lumber.

Kirsten Hillman told a British Columbia forest industry conference that high lumber prices could affect U.S. President Joe Biden's ability to fulfil his pandemic recovery goals, which include more affordable, environmentally friendly housing.

She says pressure is mounting for the Biden administration to address the softwood dispute as current lumber supply shortages and record-high prices mean more Americans are unable to get into the housing market.

However, Hillman says the White House and the U.S. Lumber Coalition have not yet signalled interest in coming back to the negotiating table.

The dispute has been on and off for decades and centres on American claims that Canada unfairly subsidizes its lumber industry through stumpage fees, or the prices charged to harvest timber on Crown land.

Hillman says Canada believes a negotiated resolution is the best outcome but officials would only move forward with discussions if there were solutions on the table that would serve Canada well.

"We are not at that point yet," she said Thursday at a virtual conference organized by the B.C. Council of Forest Industries.

"I think that with time and co-ordinated efforts by all, the administration will understand that these duties do nothing but harm Americans, and specifically those people that they're keenly focused on trying to help — workers, families and middle- to low-income Americans."

Hillman noted a World Trade Organization decision last August, which found the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission were wrong to impose duties on Canadian softwood in 2017.

The Commerce Department imposed countervailing duties of nearly nine per cent on certain Canadian exporters last fall, down from just over 20 per cent.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng said then that the lower tariffs were a step in the right direction, but insisted they were still baseless and unfair.

Ng said last November the government would continue to seek a negotiated settlement and defend the interests of the Canadian forestry industry.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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