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Chretien blasts U.S. over softwood wrangling

EDMONTON, Alta. -- Prime Minister Jean Chretien lashed out yesterday at U.S. trade practices after issuing a person...

EDMONTON, Alta. — Prime Minister Jean Chretien lashed out yesterday at U.S. trade practices after issuing a personal warning to that country’s President, George Bush, a day earlier.

“‘You want gas, you want oil and you don’t want wood?'” Chretien says he told Bush. “‘It’s too bad, but if you have free trade, you have free trade,’ and I explained it very clearly … I wanted to explain there is a problem of logic between the two.”

However, the PM stopped short of connecting energy and lumber in a potentially messy trade battle.

“No. There is no need for that,” he said after meeting with Alberta Premier Ralph Klein in Edmonton. “It’s a war when you do that … I believe in taking a file and resolving a file.”

Chretien insists he and Bush agreed to revisit the “file” to search for a solution.

International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew, who announced Canada will file its fourth formal complaint over the duties, talked a hard line at a speech Tuesday in Edmonton.

“You don’t hit a guy with a two-by-four on the forefront before asking him to help on the energy front,” Pettigrew tells the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association. “Canadians will feel like helping on the energy front if Canadians are happy in general.”

Canada’s complaint to the World Trade Organization will claim the U.S. Commerce Department acted illegally when it imposed a 19.3 per cent duty on Canada’s $10 billion a year in softwood lumber exports. Only Atlantic Canada is exempt.

The Commerce Department ruled there was evidence that Canadian wood was unfairly subsidized, mainly through low timber-cutting rates known as stumpage on provincial Crown lands.

If the WTO finds the U.S. duty to be illegal, Washington would have to rescind it. If that wasn’t done, Canada would be given permission to impose retaliatory sanctions.

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