ORILLIA, Ont. — International Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew is accusing the U.S. of misusing its economic muscle for domestic political purposes.
His charges come after Washington slapped a hefty and retroactive 19.3 per cent penalty on Canadian softwood lumber exports three days ago.
The move is expected to cost Canadian producers as much as $2 billion annually and put thousands of jobs at risk. The U.S. is being widely criticized by its allies as well as its traditional foes, Russia and China, for cherry-picking only the most advantageous multilateral agreements.
Canada shares concerns with Washington’s approach to trade and foreign affairs, but Ottawa’s primary focus is the critical $1.9 billion daily trade between the two countries.
This is the fourth and perhaps the most serious rift over the issue of softwood lumber in the past 20 years — closely following other wrangles over P.E.I. potatoes and western wheat. It threatens to drag the two countries into a costly, and potentially embarrassing, trade war.
The punitive duty imposed by the U.S. could hurt an already fragile economy pushing them even closer to a recession. The import duty, retroactive to May will add between US$250 and $400 to the average $169,000 cost of the 1.6 million new homes built each year south of the 49th parallel.
Softwood exports to the U.S. are estimated at $10 billion annually. However, Canadian mills may begin slowing production as early as today and some will likely close if they lose access to the giant U.S. market. The effects would quickly spill over into the nearly 300,000 people employed in the sector across Canada.
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