The Canada-United States Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) will likely expire next month and enter a one-year standstill period, said British Columbia’s Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations.

Steve Thomson made the comments while visiting staff at the ministry’s office in Dawson Creek.

“Our current position is consistent with the industry position, which is we would like to see the agreement extended [in its current form],” Thomson said.

“Our process will be to continue to engage with the industry and the U.S. industry.”

Thomson was in the Peace Region touring mills in Mackenzie and Chetwynd at the invitation of Peace River South MLA and Education Minister Mike Bernier.

“It’s very much an evolving situation,” Thomson said.

“Looking towards the probable expiry of the existing agreement, we’ll continue [to work on a new deal] in that standstill period.”

The deal, inked in 2006, resolved the latest chapter in one of the largest trade disputes between the two countries.

It will expire one week before the October 19 federal election.

Both countries agreed to a two-year extension in 2012.

In a recent op-ed to the Vancouver Sun, Naomi Christensen of the Canada West Foundation claimed that without the SLA, Canada is left “vulnerable to punishing tariffs at the whim of the protections U.S. industry.”

In spite of the risk, little alarm has been raised about the impending expiry of the current deal, Christensen said.

In 2014, 66% of Canada’s softwood lumber exports were to the U.S.

The B.C. government continues to work with the province’s lumber industry, in concert with the Ministry of International Trade — Canada’s overall lead on the path to a new agreement with its southern neighbour.

According to Thomson’s 2014-15 Annual Service Plan Report, B.C. industry representatives and the deputy ministers of both the his ministry and the federal Ministry of International Trade plan to meet regularly to develop B.C.’s position, along with a work plan and contingency plan for a new agreement. A consultant was engaged in August 2014 to act as B.C.’s chief negotiator for the new agreement.

Fresh off a tour of local mills, Thomson reiterated the importance of the industry and of a new deal for the Peace Region.

“Forestry is an important sector up here; we saw that in Mackenzie and in Chetwynd,” he said. “The SLA is an important overall part of the industry. The stability it provides reflects here.

“Continued investment is something that will benefit this region and the rest of the province.”

Alaska Highway News