OTTAWA, O.N. – Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thompon says that talks are ongoing in the effort to stop the next softwood lumber dispute with the United States before it begins again.
In a conference call from Ottawa yesterday, Thomson gave an update on talks that he and BC Lumber Trade Council President Susan Yurkovich have had with officials in the federal government. Thomson said that in the past few days, he and Yurkovich had had meetings with Foreign Affairs Minister and former International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, new Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne, and International Trade Committee Chair Mark Eyking to discuss the looming possibility of a dispute. The two were also in Ottawa to reinforce the importance of signing a new agreement for B.C.
Yurkovich also said during the call that maintaining access to the United States is key for the Canadian forestry sector. Despite diversifying markets in the wake of the previous dispute that began in 2002, the United States still buys 50 percent of Canadian softwood exports.
Yurkovich also acknowledged that officials with the new Trump administration have indicated that they wish to expand their own domestic softwood production. Those indications were echoed after Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies MP Bob Zimmer met with several officials of the new administration in Washington last week, including Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke. However, Yurkovich said that it is estimated that the United States consumed approximately 47 billion board-feet of lumber this year, yet only produced 32 billion FBM domestically, a 15 billion FBM shortfall. She stated that even though U.S. sawmills have a nameplate capacity of roughly 42 FBM, it would take a tremendous amount of money and personnel to ramp up production, and would not be possible for some period of time. She said that the alternative to importing Canadian softwood would be to import from Europe, which she said would be uneconomical.
Thomson and Yurkovich concluded by saying that it would be preferable to work together with the United States, but that only if the agreement benefits both parties, adding that they are fully prepared to defend the Canadian forestry industry.