One of the most enduring trade battles between Canada and the United States is once again heating up.
The Softwood Lumber Agreement has expired, and with a protectionist president about to step into the White House, lobby groups south of the border are urging the U.S. government to take action.
The fundamental difference between the two countries has always been where softwood is harvested. In the U.S., most wood is grown on private land, while in Canada it is largely harvested from Crown land.
American foresters have been saying for decades this gives Canadian producers an unfair advantage.
Ruling bodies have been split on the matter, with some agreeing with the U.S. lumber producer’s position, but others — including American government agencies — favouring the Canadian position.
Now, a year after SLA expired, a group called the U.S. Lumber Coalition has asked the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, and the U.S. International Trade Commission, to impose duties on Canadian softwood exported to the U.S.
On Tuesday Quebec’s Economic Development Minister argued lumber produced in Quebec is not subsidized and should not be subject to punitive tariffs.
“Fundamentally, we’re talking about 60,000 people. We’re talking about 60,000 families, and those families are located everywhere in the province of Quebec. So I think that you have people sitting in their living rooms and watching this and thinking, ‘This is my Dad, this is my brother, this is my sister. They can really relate to this situation of the industry,” said Dominic Anglade.
The impact of any trade deal will be massive.
The U.S. housing market depends on Canadian softwood, with roughly one-third of American construction built with Canadian-sourced lumber.
About 70 percent of Canadian softwood is exported to the United States.
Quebec is now asking Ottawa to put loan guarantees and other measures in place to protect the industry if negotiations continue to be drag into the spring.
“We have time between now and April to react, but want to make sure that we act fast and those programs are developed and that the industry is reassured that federal government is going to be there to support them,” said Anglade.
Support for the industry has come forward before, namely in 2005 when the federal government provided $20 million to Canadian softwood lumber associations to deal with legal fees.
Andre Tremblay, a spokesperson for Quebec’s forestry industry is worried the battle will be very difficult, especially after Donald Trump is sworn in as president.
“It’s more diffcult to have a clear vision of what will happen,” said Tremblay.
Earlier this month CNN obtained a memo showing that Trump was being advised to include softwood lumber in renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Quebec cabinet ministers will meet the Federal Minister of International Trade next week.