MONTREAL — The BC Lumber Trade Council and provincial government said Monday they will try to convince American consumers, politicians and lumber buyers that an equitable softwood lumber deal is needed to avoid the damage that will result from import restrictions into the U.S. and higher prices.
Susan Yurkovich, the president of the council, and B.C. Forests Minister Steve Thomson said no budget has been set for the lobbying effort, though they expect fees covering legal, consulting and advertising costs will add up.
"It's a very expensive undertaking and it's unfortunate that we're doing this," Yurkovich said from Ottawa after she and Thomson met with federal Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
If the past is any indication, such a campaign can be expensive.
Mike Apsey, a former deputy minister in B.C. and forestry sector official, wrote in a book published in 2006 that the lumber industry spent $40 million on lawyers, lobbyists and consultants in the 1990s to defend its interests in a previous softwood dispute, not including public funds.
Yurkovich said the Canadian industry would rather work co-operatively with the U.S. sector to grow the lumber market and find a resolution to the softwood lumber dispute, which has become an increasing irritant in trade relations since efforts late last year to renew a past agreement failed.
She said restricting Canadian lumber supply will cause house prices in the U.S. to spike, pushing home ownership out of the reach of some Americans. The U.S. industry can't currently meet lumber demand on its own, she said, adding that Canada supplied about 32 billion of the 47 billion board feet of softwood that the U.S. needed last year.
"The message we're bringing here is that it's also critical for the U.S., if they want to build their economy, they need our lumber," added Thomson.
Forestry companies throughout Canada have said hundreds if not thousands of sawmill jobs are at risk if the U.S. imposes duties on Canadian softwood.
The U.S. Lumber Coalition, which launched a complaint with the U.S. Commerce Department over the softwood lumber dispute, says thousands of U.S. jobs could be created if Canadian lumber weren't unfairly subsidized.
"If investors could be confident that subsidized imports are being addressed, the more U.S. milling capacity will be developed to utilize abundant U.S. timber resources," said spokesman Zoltan van Heyningen.
The U.S. Commerce Department is expected to decide on the imposition of preliminary duties as early as late April or early May. It has asked four Canadian lumber companies to prove that they deserve free and unencumbered access to the U.S. market.
Concerns about layoffs in the forestry sector, an important economic driver in Quebec, prompted Premier Philippe Couillard to commit to providing loan guarantees to help producers pay duties if the federal government doesn't.
Thomson said B.C. is reviewing how to help its producers adjust if the U.S. introduces duties.
Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press