Safety net for softwood

An Okanagan member of Parliament is joining calls on the federal government to ensure the softwood lumber industry is safeguarded from potential protectionist policies south of the border.

South Okanagan – West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings made a call for loan guarantees for forestry companies in the House of Commons, as the threat of a duty on Canadian exports – including lumber – to the U.S. persists.

A loan guarantee would have the federal government take on some of the debt of a company if it defaults on a loan, but Cannings didn’t have specifics on what those loan guarantees would look like.

“We think the government should be thinking of that, and they have given us no indication that they have any plans in that regard,” he said. “The Americans are talking 35-, 45-, 55-per-cent countervail duties and that would just devastate the Canadian lumber industry.”

Ontario and Quebec have both put out a call for loan guarantees for the softwood lumber industry, but Cannings says the issue is most pertinent for B.C.

“We create most of the softwood lumber in Canada,” he said, adding that the 2015 expiry of a softwood lumber trade deal with the U.S. has created some uncertainty now that Donald Trump’s administration has taken over.

“Right now the federal government, both the previous government and this one, have, I think, kind of dropped the ball on not getting an agreement signed off … some time ago.

“They let it slide until we got into election mode in the States and now we have a government down there that’s very protectionist. Who know’s what they’ll be demanding?”

After a meeting with Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. last week, Premier Christy Clark said she’s looking forward to getting lumber talks with Canada’s biggest trading partner going again, noting that Barack Obama's administration appeared ambivalent about the issue.

While there remains a sense of unease from the new administration, Cannings still feels Canada has a strong product to provide for the U.S.

“They need our lumber, let’s face it. They cannot supply their own lumber needs through their mills, so they need Canadian lumber,” Cannings said.

“They’re only hurting themselves if they boost the prices on Canadian lumber.... So we think Canada should be negotiating with that message in mind, saying, ‘Look, it’s in both of our interests to have a good fair trade in lumber.’”

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