Premier Christy Clark and cabinet ministers interrupted their election campaign Tuesday to respond to the U.S. Commerce Department’s decision to impose duties of about 20 per cent on Canadian lumber exports.
The U.S. government ruling reviewed submissions from major producers in Canada, three of the largest in B.C. The preliminary decision found rates of subsidization 20.26 per cent for Canfor, 19.5 per cent for Tolko and 24.12 per cent for West Fraser. Resolute, a large producer in Eastern Canada, was assessed a subsidy rate of 12.82 per cent.
Susan Yurkovich, president of the B.C. Lumber Trade Council, said the U.S. industry trade action is designed to push up lumber prices for their benefit. The decision found “critical circumstances,” which means duties will be retroactive for 90 days. Yurkovich said that was unprecedented for the Department of Commerce and “entirely arbitrary.”
Clark vowed to fight the preliminary ruling and convince U.S. officials that B.C. lumber is a key component of the U.S. housing industry.
“We will only accept a new agreement that works for B.C.,” Clark said. “We will fight, and we will win as we have before.”
The U.S. lumber coalition that filed the trade action, its fifth since the 1980s, cheered the decision and noted that a second preliminary ruling on its claim of lumber “dumping” from Canada is due June 23. Dumping duties would be added to countervailing duties.
The ruling comes as the B.C. Liberal Party and NDP battle in the election campaign about the influence of U.S. lumber interests in their campaigns. The NDP pointed to donations to the B.C. Liberals from Weyerhauser, a member of the U.S. lumber industry coalition pushing for import duties that also has operations in B.C.
The B.C. Liberals question record support for the NDP from the United Steelworkers, a Pittsburgh-based union that took over the former International Woodworkers of America representing employees in the B.C. forest industry.
Steelworkers international president Leo Gerard stood with U.S. President Donald Trump recently to endorse an investigation of steel trade into the U.S., but he issued a statement Tuesday decrying the lumber action.
“The United Steelworkers sees Tuesday’s announcement as a direct attack on our Canadian industry, and more broadly on the trade relationship between our two countries,” Gerard said.