Trump election casts shadow on softwood lumber trade

Donald Trump's crusade against NAFTA could embolden the U.S. Lumber Coalition to renew its battle against B.C. lumber exports

One of a series of articles on the future of the B.C. forest industry. You can follow the series on Facebook or Twitter by searching for the hashtag #BCForestFuture.

Negotiators for B.C.’s now-expired softwood lumber deal with the U.S. now know who they’re facing in an effort to find an acceptable quota for Canadian wood exports – anti-trade crusader Donald Trump.

Trump’s campaign speeches focused on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), characterizing it as the worst trade deal the country has ever made and promising to renegotiate it. NAFTA allows a partner to withdraw with six months notice, but it does not cover Canadian lumber exports, more than half of which come from B.C.

B.C.’s government and forest industry continue to market wood products in Asia, with Forests Minister Steve Thomson leading his annual trade mission to Japan and China in late November. Asian lumber purchases peaked in 2014, briefly exceeding U.S. sales before the American housing market recovery continued and Chinese demand began to slow.

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The last Canada-U.S. agreement was signed in 2006 and its protection against trade actions expired in October. It had provisions for an export tax or a quota, and B.C. opted for the tax that kicked in depending on the selling price.

UBC forestry professor Harry Nelson says the U.S. Lumber Coalition is seeking a quota this time, to restrict supply and keep prices higher for American customers. And Canadian or B.C. government efforts to develop the industry, from technology to replanting, could also be targets of U.S. lumber interests.

“Investments in forest stewardship, competitiveness and innovation could all become targets of a future lawsuit by the U.S. Lumber Coalition, which has charged that the Canadian forestry companies have an unfair advantage over U.S. producers,” Nelson wrote in a commentary in The Globe and Mail on Nov. 9.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with U.S. President Barack Obama in June, where they acknowledged there is more cross-border ownership of forest products companies and agreed in principle to a cap on Canadian exports to the U.S. Thomson says discussions are continuing, but there has been no announcement of progress since then.

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