Doherty, Zimmer named to Conservatives' softwood lumber task force

Prince George area MPs Todd Doherty and Bob Zimmer have been named to a task force the Conservative opposition has formed "to hold the Liberal government to account for solving the softwood lumber trade dispute with the United States."

"We are a group of MPs who are tired of the Liberal government mismanaging this very important file," Doherty said in a statement issued Monday. "We will make sure the Liberals don't forget about the workers and communities affected by their trade war.

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"We will talk to companies, workers and community leaders from coast to coast to coast, bring them together, and see if we can chart a path forward to solve this problem."

In all, seven MPs and one senator, including international trade critic Gerry Ritz, are on the task force. They represent ridings in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan. Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl is the third B.C. member of the task force.

"From British Columbia to Quebec, and certainly including the Atlantic provinces, each province could face significant job losses," Denis Lebel, the MP for Lac-St. Jean in Quebec said. "This is particularly worrying in my riding, where about 70 per cent of the economy is dependent on the lumber industry.

"The imposition of new tariffs on lumber exports will have devastating effects on an already fragile economy and it is unfortunate that Justin Trudeau and his Liberal colleagues remain unmoved by this situation."

The so-called one-year “standstill period” following the expiry of the 2006 Canada-U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement ended last week, putting the U.S. in a position to apply duties against Canadian exports of the product.

In the U.S., where most timber lots are privately owned and timber is sold through auctions, the claim has been that lumber producers in Canada are able to buy their trees from publicly-owned forests at subsidized rates, allowing them to undercut their American counterparts.

If a legal action is started, Canadian exporters can expect to start paying preliminary countervailing duties starting near the end of March 2017. A final U.S. government determination on the level of countervailing and anti-dumping duties would be set at the end of 2017.

But B.C. Lumber Trade Council president Susan Yurkovich has said she’s optimistic Canadian and U.S. negotiators can find a settlement before duties can be imposed.

The BCLTC prefers a “managed trade” deal over litigation.

Prior to the 2006 accord, Canadian companies were stuck for years paying duties that started at 27 per cent in 2001, and were gradually lowered to 11 per cent by the U.S. Commerce Department.

Canada has consistently won before international tribunal panels when it challenged past assaults by the U.S. industry starting in the 1980s. But those battles, fought before tribunals set up under the authority of the North America Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization, typically lasted four to five years. While Canadian companies get their duties reimbursed if Canada wins its case, legal costs for the entire industry can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars over that period.

In a statement, Yurkovich praised the federal and provincial government's efforts on the issue.

"They have made achieving an agreement on softwood lumber a top priority and are making every effort to avoid another lengthy trade dispute that creates uncertainty, hurts consumers and producers, and impedes the growth of the North American market," Yurkovich said.

The Conservative said the last softwood lumber dispute cost the Canadian forestry sector $5.3 billion and was settled by the previous Conservative government within three months of coming into office in 2006.

"It was also the previous Conservative government that negotiated an extension of the deal in 2012 to ensure market stability through to October 2016," the party said in the statement.

The task force will consult with forestry stakeholders, "especially those who feel their voices have not been adequately represented at the bargaining table," through roundtables, town halls or mail outs, the Conservatives say on the party website. The task force will follow up with formal submissions, briefs and letters to officials on an ad hoc basis, the posting continued.

- with files from the Vancouver Sun

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