U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Portland, must sometimes feel that old issues never die, they simply fade into the background for a time. Thus, this week he urged negotiators to come up with a trade agreement that will slow the influx of Canadian wood to the U.S.
It’s a problem he’s faced periodically since first going to Washington as a U.S. representative in 1981.
Canadian softwood imports — from conifers including pine and fir — have been limited by taxes or higher stumpage fees most years since 1982, though the most recent agreement expired in October of last year. A one-year moratorium on trade tariffs is in place until October of this year. Since the pact expired, lumber imports from Canada have increased by 43 percent.
Worse, American timber companies cannot compete with Canadian prices, which, they argue, the government subsidizes. It does so, they contend, in part by charging Canadian timber companies far less to harvest from government land than they would pay in the U.S.
The dispute, and the complaints about unfair subsidies, goes back at least as far as the early 1960s. The issue flared again in the early 1980s, leading to the first in a series of trade agreements in 1987. The recently expired agreement was signed in 2006.
Now, with the moratorium on trade tariffs about to expire, the pressure is on to come to another agreement on Canadian lumber imports. Wyden, who visited timber-dependent Douglas County Tuesday, clearly hopes to spur the talks to success.
There’s good reason for doing so.
Even in Oregon, which has seen a dramatic decline in timber harvest, timber remains important in places like Douglas County, where two of the top three employers are wood-products companies.
Oregon’s timber-dependent counties have faced economic troubles for decades. They don’t need a trade war with Canada to add to them. Wyden is right to continue to push for a new agreement.