REGINA, Sask. — In a move reminiscent of the start of the softwood lumber dispute, the U.S. Commerce Department has slapped countervailing duties on Canadian wheat exported to the U.S.
While the U.S. waits for a verdict in an ongoing challenge against the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB), it decided to take action early by imposing a four per cent duty on wheat exports. That amounts to about $10 or $11 per tonne.
"This is little more than harassment," CWB chairman, Ken Ritter, tells local media.
Canada has been challenged by the U.S. 10 times and has won each of the previous nine confrontations.
"This is the 10th challenge. We’ve been looked at in nine previous cases and you can’t just be nine times lucky, you have to have some substance behind your position," says Ritter.
While the CWB took the imposed duties in stride, federal International Trade Minister, Pierre Pettigrew, says the move is unacceptable.
"The number isn’t as bad as we had with softwood but that doesn’t make it more acceptable," he says, noting Canada will fight the duties. "We’re going to challenge it, absolutely. We’ll stand by our farmers."
The U.S. has argued Canadian wheat producers are subsidized, providing them with an unfair advantage over U.S. producers. However, Canadian farmers say nothing could be further from the truth.
"This whole trade challenge reflects nothing more than American frustration at the success of our wheat in their market," Ritter says. "They are also intolerant of any marketing system which is different from their own."
The Commerce Department is expected to rule on the U.S. complaints in July and it’s possible the imposed duties will have to be refunded of the ruling is in Canada’s favor.
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