VANCOUVER -- A coalition of U.S. lumber producers is calling for stiff measures -- including the possibility of even higher duties -- to stop major B.C. Interior softwood producers from flooding the North American market as they try to cut costs with economy of scale.
U.S. lumber firms demand action
John Ragosta, the lawyer acting for the U.S. Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, said punitive duties on Canadian softwood lumber have succeeded in reducing production levels in virtually every province in Canada.
In the first nine months of this year, production in Quebec fell 4.5 per cent to 5.5 billion board feet from the equivalent period in 2001. In the same period, production was down 62 per cent to 1.7 billion on the coast of B.C.
In Ontario, production was also down 9 per cent to 2.3 billion.
Yet coalition officials fear the lumber industry in the western United States is threatened by soaring shipments from the B.C. Interior.
In the first nine months of 2002, shipments from operations in the B.C. Interior rose by 56 per cent to nine billion board feet from 5.7 billion in the same period last year, according to Statistics Canada figures.
The increase has come even though Canadian lumber producers are paying duties averaging 27.2 per cent to ship lumber into the U.S. market.
"If this keeps up, there is going to have to be an agreement to stop it or there will have to be a duty increase to reflect the level of unfair trade," Mr. Ragosta said.
Another senior member of the coalition has suggested that the problem could be resolved with a return to the old quota system that was in place before the existing duties were imposed in May.
Under a five-year agreement that expired in April, 2001, the U.S. imposed a quota system limiting the amount of duty-free lumber shipments from Canada to 14.7 billion board feet.
Dick Bennett, the coalition's western vice-chairman, said he plans to press for the reintroduction of quotas.
"If we are going to slow production at all, we have to do it with penalties," Mr. Bennett said, adding that his own sawmill operations in Idaho are losing about $200,000 (U.S.) a month.
One Canadian lumber executive dismissed Mr. Bennett's suggestion.
"When you hear crap like that from Mr. Bennett, you start to despair," said David Emerson, the chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Canfor Corp.