Softwood meeting not going to happen

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OTTAWA, Ont. — The federal government has no plans to call for a tete-a-tete with producers over lingering problems attached to the softwood lumber industry.

Nor does the government plan to appoint a special envoy to explore a deal with the U.S., despite industry appeals following the imposition of export duties now totaling 32 per cent.

Sebastien Theberge, spokesman for Pierre Pettigrew, the Minister for International Trade, says there is no need to name an envoy despite the appointment over two weeks ago of Marc Racicot on the U.S. side.

Pettigrew will meet Racicot for the first time when the former Montana governor comes to Ottawa tomorrow. Theberge warned Racicot can expect to be blasted over the “outrageous and punitive” second export tax announced last week.

The 12.6 per cent anti-dumping levy comes on top of a 19.3 per cent countervailing duty imposed in August by U.S. authorities.

“We intend to establish a good working relationship with him. But he’s going to get an earful,” Theberge tells local media.

Many Canadian producers are looking for something more than a stern talking to from the Canadian minister, as thousands lose their jobs and the industry eyes revenue losses of more than $1 billion. On the B.C. coast alone, 21 of 35 mills have shut down as a result of the first duty, with the loss some 12,500 jobs. The most recent penalty has put 30,000 more jobs at risk, according to the industry.

David Emerson, co-chair of the B.C. Lumber Trade Council and president of Canfor Corp., the largest Canadian lumber producer, has called on the Prime Minister to get personally involved in the dispute. The association of eastern-based companies, the Free Trade Lumber Council, renewed its demand for a stakeholders’ meeting on the weekend.

And Jacques Cote, of the lumber remanufacturers says, “To have a consensus you have to get everyone in the same room. The official discussion is between governments. We’re not absolutely sure what’s going on and what the Americans are looking for.”

Cote warned the industry losses are about to mount leading to mid-December, when the first duty is set to expire.

“The volume (of lumber shipments) will go down dramatically. It’s obvious,” he says. “Most of my members called me and they’re not sure how they’ll survive the next 45 or so days.”

The federal government refuses at every turn to admit it is in negotiations with the Americans, preferring the kinder, gentler term “discussions.”

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