Atlantic lumber industry pushes for softwood exemption

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FREDERICTON, N.B.– The Atlantic provinces are urging U.S. Department of Commerce that the region deserves an exemption from the countervailing duties Americans are set to impose.

“It’s widely recognized, even in the United States, that Atlantic Canada should be excluded. So we’re still working on it,” says New Brunswick Natural Resources Minister Jeannot Volpe.

Whether the move is successful or not will soon be evident as June 26 has been set as the date when the U.S. Commerce Department will announce the preliminary penalty on Canadian imports to the U.S.

“We’re hopeful the Commerce Department will recognize and approve an Atlantic exemption before the penalty is determined,” Mary Keith, spokeswoman for Atlantic Canada’s largest lumber producer J.D. Irving, tells local media.

“On June 26, sawmills will have to post bonds for a preliminary determination of penalty which could be retroactive to Apr. 2. It could be anywhere from 12 to 25 cents on the dollar for every export going across the border.”

An International Trade Commission this week upheld the validity of complaints from U.S. lumber producers who oppose Canadian imports. The commission, however, stopped short of spelling out any punitive measures that should be impossed against Canadian producers.

The trade panel made no regional distinctions in the May 17, ruling — it merely stated the U.S. lumber industry is threatened by Canadian softwood imports.

Keith says Atlantic lumber producers have a lot of help in trying to secure a separate deal for the region. The Maritime Lumber Bureau, the four Atlantic premiers, the Canadian government and even the U.S. Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, the main U.S. industry lobby group, are all rallying behind the idea.

Prior to the expiration of the Canada-U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement in March, Atlantic Canadian lumber companies enjoyed free trade in softwood under a side deal called the Maritime Accord. The East Coast industry has been exempt because most lumber cut for export in the region comes from private woodlots rather than publicly owned Crown land like in British Columbia.

“We don’t believe anything has changed since our special status was first recognized in 1986,” says Keith.

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