A Toronto-based forestry group is calling on the federal government to support the country’s forestry industry in the wake of newly-imposed U.S. sanctions on softwood lumber exports.

On Monday, the U.S. Commerce Department announced duties of up to 24 per cent on softwood lumber imports from Canada, alleging the Canadian industry is subsidized.

“These unjust, unlawful duties that have just recently been announced, will absolutely hurt our middle class, the 57,000 hard-working men and women across rural and Northern Ontario, that depend on the forest sector for their livelihood,” said Jamie Lim, president and CEO of the Ontario Forest Industries Association (OFIA). “This is about people. This is about hard-working people.”

Guaranteed loan program needed

Lim says the OFIA wants the federal and provincial governments to launch a guaranteed loan program for forestry companies to help them weather the duties.

She said all Canadian companies exporting softwood lumber must pay the duties, which she said are retroactive for 90 days. However, these sanctions have been imposed by the United States before, and have never stood up to a legal challenge.

Therefore, Canadian companies may get their money back, but that’s only after a legal proceeding, which could take a long time. Therefore, a guaranteed loan program is needed to support the companies in the shorter term.

“It would allow our companies to keep people working,” she said. “And secondly, it would send a clear message to the United States that we are not going to allow them, through unlawful duties, to starve our Canadian forest sector of money.”

Quebec has already announced a similar program, Lim said.

Ontario negotiator appointed

Meanwhile, Ontario announced on Monday that former federal trade minister Jim Peterson will be its chief negotiator in the ongoing dispute.

Peterson will “play a key role in the ongoing discussions with the U.S., federal and other provincial governments,” the province said in a media release.

Peterson has participated in softwood lumber negotiations before.

Lim said Quebec and British Columbia have appointed negotiators, as well.

“Ontario needed to announce a trade envoy,” Lim said. “We hope in addition to announcing the trade envoy, that (Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne) will recognize that if the federal government chooses not to do the right thing and not bring forward a loan guarantee program, that she will follow Quebec’s lead and bring a provincial loan guarantee program.”