VICTORIA — British Columbia’s trade envoy on softwood lumber says the province is ready to fight on behalf of its lumber producers, but isn’t looking to become embroiled in a costly and lengthy legal battle with the United States.
David Emerson was in Washington, D.C., this week meeting with U.S. trade officials, senators and representatives of the National Association of Homebuilders about the expired trade deal between Canada and the U.S.
“We’re not negotiating, but we’re certainly setting the table, and I conveyed to the people I met with that British Columbia, as much of the rest of Canada, is not anxious to take a long, costly damaging (litigation) process,” he said in a telephone news conference Wednesday.
“We would like to see softwood lumber resolved in a more reasonable, fact-based framework.”
Emerson described his hour-long meeting with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, one of the U.S. Lumber Coalition’s chief advocates, as “prickly.”
The coalition representing lumber producers filed a petition last November asking the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission to limit Canadian lumber shipments.
The group claimed Canada unfairly subsidizes its lumber industry, harming American workers who are experiencing mounting unemployment.
Emerson said he’s leaving the meetings feeling the Americans are aware that B.C. and Canada are looking to find a deal and are prepared to fight.
The former federal cabinet minister said he also sensed the U.S. is still transitioning to President Donald Trump’s administration and is not yet ready to begin trade talks on softwood lumber.
“All told, it was a very good trip, but the administration is still far from stabilized,” Emerson said.
Emerson also held meetings this week in Ottawa with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Quebec’s representative to the U.S., Raymond Chretien.
The 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement between Canada and the United States expired on Oct. 12, 2015.
Premier Christy Clark has said about 40 per cent of B.C.’s rural communities are dependent on forestry and the industry provides more than 60,000 direct jobs in the province.
The value of lumber exports from B.C. to the U.S. last year was $4.6 billion. B.C. is Canada’s largest producer of softwood lumber, accounting for about half of national production.
Emerson said the forest sector supports jobs on both sides of the border and is a “critical part” of America’s home-building industry.
“Litigation will only disrupt the market and create artificial constraints on timber supply that will benefit a select few timber barons and sawmill owners at the expense of American workers and consumers,” he said in a statement.