MONTREAL, Que. — Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew insists Canada is willing to meet the U.S. in court if Washington is not willing to drop its duties on softwood lumber exports.
Pettigrew said legal action will become an option if the U.S. imposes an expected 19.3 per cent countervailing duty on softwood exports, along with an anti-dumping tariff, in March.
“If bilateral talks don’t produce the results we hope for, we reserve the right to take all the legal means possible,” says Pettigrew, reiterating a position he stated last fall.
“There’s NAFTA and U.S. courts. Canada has already won (previous disputes) before U.S. courts.”
The Americans contend Canadian softwood is subsidized through low provincial stumpage fees — the royalty charged on Crown timber.
The dispute is being heard before a World Trade Organization panel appointed in December, but Pettigrew accused the U.S. on Wednesday of stalling the selection of panel members.
Pettigrew has asked the WTO’s director general to intervene directly and appoint the panel members and charges the U.S. is stalling the process because it knows its case is weak.
The minister’s publicly stated preference has always been to see the spat resolved through bilateral talks, but U.S. officials missed a deadline last week to respond to Canadian proposals to reach a negotiated settlement.
The U.S. imposed a provisional duty on Canadian lumber exports in August, and the tariffs expired in December. If they’re re-imposed, the duties would cost Canadian exporters hundreds of millions of dollars in tariffs and could again cripple the country’s $10-billion lumber business south of the border.
The provisional duties led to several mill closures last fall, primarily in B.C., throwing thousands of people out of work including the trucker who move the wood to market.
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