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Canadian lumber campaign suspended

OTTAWA, Ont. -- Jean Chretien is not expected to mention anything about the softwood trade dispute when he meets wi...

OTTAWA, Ont. — Jean Chretien is not expected to mention anything about the softwood trade dispute when he meets with U.S. leaders to discuss security concerns next week.

Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew says the federal government won’t abandon the softwood lumber industry and its workers even if the focus has shifted to terrorism and war when dealing with the U.S.

Federal and provincial governments have suspended a public relations campaign intended to pressure the American government to back off on its punishing 19.3-per cent interim duty imposed in early August.

Last month, Chretien was pressuring U.S. President George Bush to support Canada’s position, but he now is not expected to mention the trade feud when he meets Bush in Washington next week.

An estimated 10,000 people have already lost their jobs in B.C. Pettigrew says the government will still fight on behalf of those who have lost jobs.

“Our government has different priorities in our relationship with the United States given the elements of last Tuesday. So you would expect my speeches and my words on softwood lumber and trade issues in general to reflect the general priories of our government,” says Pettigrew. “But the softwood lumber issue is still a very important one and we are doing due diligence on it.”

B.C. Forests Minister Mike de Jong says, “I think any reasonable person would understand that the political leadership in the U.S. at the moment is somewhat preoccupied with another matter.”

John Allan, president of the B.C. Lumber Trade Council, says the B.C. industry wants to look at possible negotiated solutions, such as an agreement to replace the duty with an export tax in order to keep the money in Canada. At the same time however, the Quebec industry has so far objected to any negotiated settlement.

Federal officials say it’s unlikely there will be a settlement until the U.S. Congress gives Bush fast-track authority to negotiate trade agreements, which could happen by early October.

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