Ottawa has formed a federal-provincial task force on softwood lumber.
Announced by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, the task force will share information and analysis to understand potential impacts and assess how to address the needs of affected workers and communities. Minister Carr will chair the domestic task force, while Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, leads softwood engagement with the United States.
“Canada’s forest and natural resource sectors are vital to employment in communities across the country,” said Carr in a press release. “This new task force will work together to strengthen the long-term success of the forest sector through innovation and diversifying markets for Canadian forest products.”
There has been ongoing engagement with the provinces, territories and industry over the past two years as Ottawa has sought to negotiate a new deal with the U.S. on softwood lumber, he said. However, critics including Prince George-Cariboo MP Todd Doherty and Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, have lambasted the government not taking action on the softwood lumber issue. The softwood lumber agreement expired in 2015 and a one-year extension expired last fall.
The U.S. is going through its processes and duties as high as 30 per cent are expected to be levied next month.
Carr said it is a “priority” file for Ottawa. It is not known whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the issue with U.S. President Donald Trump when they met in Washington a couple of weeks ago.
Canada believes that a negotiated agreement that brings predictability and stability to industry on both sides of the border is the best possible outcome, he said.
The new task force will assess current federal and provincial programming and ensure coordination of government initiatives to promote innovation, market diversification and transformation of the forest sector. The forest sector employs more than 200,000 people across Canada. Softwood lumber exports were valued at $8.6 billion in 2015 — close to 70 per cent of which was exported to the U.S.
Provincial Forest Minister Steve Thomson says he is pleased with the formation of the task force.
“Given the importance of forestry to B.C.’s economy and the fact that B.C. accounts for over 50 per cent of Canada’s softwood lumber exports to the U.S., I’m pleased to be able to participate in this task force,” he said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Through the task force, I’m committed to working closely with my federal and provincial colleagues to assess our collective readiness to respond to the needs of workers and communities affected by U.S. trade action.”
He added reaching a new softwood lumber trade agreement with the U.S. remains a top priority for the B.C. government, adding that is why Premier Christy Clark appointed David Emerson as British Columbia’s special trade envoy to the United States. Emerson will be working closely with the federal government on ensuring Americans are aware of how B.C. softwood lumber products support the U.S. economy and how duties impact their dream of home ownership.
“Our forest industry directly employs more than 60,000 people in over 140 communities throughout B.C.,” said Thomson. “We’re pleased that the federal government recognizes the importance of forestry across the country and the need for us to continue to work closely together on this important issue.”
- In the United States, where demand for lumber exceeds what domestic mills can supply, housing and other industries rely on Canada for stable, predictable access to quality products.
- The 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA), which provided stability and predictability for industry on both sides of the border, expired on October 12, 2015.
- The new Federal–Provincial Task Force on Softwood Lumber will coordinate current programs and assess domestic initiatives. Negotiations for a new softwood lumber agreement continue to be led by Global Affairs Canada, in close collaboration with provinces, territories, industry and other stakeholders.