New Brunswick’s new special envoy to the United States on the softwood lumber tariff dispute says he will begin work immediately to get the province a favourable deal.
David Wilkins, who was in Saint John on Tuesday afternoon with Premier Brian Gallant, said his goal is to get a return of the long-standing exemption on border taxes on softwood lumber exports from the province.
“New Brunswick benefited greatly from the Maritime exclusion,” Wilkins said during a news conference at the Trade and Convention Centre
“It took a heavy investment of leadership on both sides of that issue, and that’s exactly what we need again.
“And it just makes good sense. New Brunswick and the U.S. have an obvious and mutually beneficial trade relationship that creates thousands of jobs for both countries.”
Wilkins, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, was hired by the province this month after the Trump administration announced it will slap tariffs of between three and 24 per cent on softwood lumber from Canada.
The province is paying Wilkins $40,000 US per month for the one-year term, nearly $658,000 Cdn, to assist with lobbying efforts and provide the Gallant government with advice.
Wilkins said he will also try to create new business for New Brunswick in the U.S.
“And I promise you this, while I’m going to work as hard as I can alongside your premier to help strengthen those ties you already have, we’re also striving along with your premier to help open more doors for investment and opportunities in the U.S.,” he said.
“We believe in the tremendous potential that this province has to offer the U.S.”
The forest industry contributes more than $1.45 billion to the provincial economy a year and employs about 22,000 New Brunswickers.
But the New Brunswick government has warned the softwood lumber tariffs could lead to mill closures and job losses.
Up to 25 sawmills owned by 14 companies could suffer in the trade dispute.
Wilkins, who served from 2005 to 2009 during the George W. Bush administration, is a partner at a law firm and lobby group based in Columbia, S.C.
He met with government officials and forest industry representatives earlier Tuesday.
Mike Légère, executive director of Forest NB, said in a government-issued release that the organization was “pleased with the discussion that took place.”
“Forestry is an important part of our economy, and provides jobs in communities across the province,” said Légère. “Our industry is working with our partners to resolve the softwood lumber challenge.”
Treasury Board President Roger Melanson, who is also the minister responsible for trade policy, described the discussions as “productive and informative.”
Melanson had initially declined to disclose how much the government is paying Wilkins, but a government spokeswoman later revealed the amount.
Wilkins helped resolve a previous softwood lumber dispute between Canada and the U.S. within 15 months of becoming ambassador. That deal earned the support of “most of the Canadian lumber industry,” according to the provincial government.