B.C. Premier Christy Clark is expressing hope the Trudeau government can overcome U.S. resistance and renew a softwood lumber deal that brought peace to Canada-U.S. trade relations a decade ago.
“The last time … relations around softwood lumber went sideways, [Canada’s] whole relationship with the United States went off the rails,” Clark told reporters in Ottawa Thursday.
Clark and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are scheduled to meet in person on Friday.
The prime minister “has been absolutely steadfast in wanting to support getting this deal done, making sure that we avoid a disruption in the nation’s trade relationships,” Clark said.
The previous agreement expired Oct. 12, but included a standstill clause that prevents the U.S. from launching any trade action against Canadian producers for one year.
The original deal to revoke U.S. countervailing measures against Canadian lumber was signed in 2006 and renewed in 2012, after years of trade disputes at the World Trade Organization and an estimated 9,000 to 10,000 job losses for the Canadian industry.
More than $4.5 billion in tariffs were eventually returned to Canadian exporters. Since then, export charges have been levied on Canadian products when the lumber price dropped below a certain amount.
Now, Canada’s low dollar, combined with promising U.S. housing starts, is creating new demand for the B.C. industry’s products. That’s also attracting the attention of U.S. producers, who appear uninterested in renewing the previous agreement as Canada wants.
“This is not just a regional issue, or a single-sector issue. This is central to our relationship with our best friend in the world and that’s the United States,” Clark said.
“There’s always a deal there. The softwood lumber agreement’s been good for America, it’s been good for Canada,” she said. “It should be renewed, and the prime minister’s working on that.”
Trudeau’s Washington visit
Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said Wednesday on a teleconference from New Zealand that the first time Trudeau met U.S. President Barack Obama at the APEC conference last November, he proactively raised the need to resolve things.
Freeland said her officials were “working very hard” and she’s had “many conversations” with U.S. trade representative Michael Froman.
The trade minister hinted that a breakthrough may come before the prime minister visits Washington next month.
“We know we have an important moment in Canada-U.S. relations coming up on March 10 and I am working hard with our American partners to make significant progress by then,” Freeland said.
Clark was meeting Thursday with U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman to raise the issue again.
Clark is in Ottawa with a trade delegation from B.C. of more than 100 representatives of industry, labour and First Nations, meeting with federal representatives on shared issues like job training and immigration.
Talks with federal officials have been “very encouraging,” she said, describing Trudeau’s government as a “really willing partner” with her province.
B.C.’s diversified and growing economy is a “real sign of hope in a country where a lot of things are going wrong,” she said.
The Tory critic for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, Todd Doherty, says half the jobs in his riding are dependent on the forestry industry, and he wants assurances that getting a softwood lumber agreement with the U.S. is of paramount importance to the federal government.
“Obviously this is on the premier’s mind, but it has to be on this prime minister’s mind as well,” he said. “At the very least, we have to make sure we get this discussion started.”