Despite not being surprised by the preliminary softwood lumber tariffs imposed by the U.S. last week, EACOM Timber Corporation’s president and chief executive officer Kevin Edgson is not any less concerned.
Edgson sat down with me outside the main room at the Ontario Natural Resources Forum in downtown Toronto; two days after President Trump made the preliminary tax announcement from Washington on April 24.
“We knew it was coming for a long time… It’s in the neighbourhood of what we expected,” Edgson said. “We were disappointed in terms of the retroactivity, especially because it seems that was manufactured as opposed to anything that was reasonable or expected.”
Montreal-based EACOM owns five sawmills in Ontario and two in Quebec. It also owns a remanufacturing facility in Val-d’Or, Que., and an engineered wood mill in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Acquiring the latter is one way Edgson says EACOM is expanding its market reach.
“The Sault Ste. Marie operation produces a product that isn’t covered under this duty, so that was really us investing in and widening our product scope,” Edgson said. “Outside of that what we’ve done is we’ve minimized the amount of capital that we’ve spent in the last two years to build up our balance sheet, which is really to ensure that we have the liquidity to be able to take the hit.”
Earlier in the day, Edgson sat down with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to discuss industry concerns including partnerships with Aboriginal communities and exposing young people to the forestry industry, particularly young women. Softwood lumber was at the top of the list.
During the discussion, Wynne announced that Ontario would be providing an additional $20 million in funding for the construction and maintenance of forest access roads.
Wynne said she discussed the preliminary duty situation with other premiers and is ready to work with them along with the federal government to find a solution.
“This has been a contentious file with the U.S. for years and we continue to go through a cycle,” she noted. “There is a real willingness to find common ground across the country in the best way that we can.”
“It’s clear that [U.S./Canada relations are] in a rougher, rockier patch than in the past,” Edgson told me. “I think, eventually, cooler heads will prevail. It is the largest trading relationship in the world. It is in the best interest of people on both sides of that to find solutions.”
Edgson said he is optimistic that ultimately, there will be a good relationship established between the two governments on the softwood lumber issue.
“When you look at our side of this dispute, it is an unjust accusation and therefore, what we need to do is take the higher road,” Edgson said. “We need to be calm in tone and response. What we need to do is defend ourselves with honesty and integrity and continue to believe in the process.”