B.C. Forests MInister Doug Donaldson (right side centre) meets with housing ministry officials in Jiangsu province, China, Nov. 15, 2017. The complexities of Asia trade and continued attacks from U.S. lumber producers have spurred B.C. to open a network of Asia trade offices. (B.C. government photo)

Donald Trump’s trade wars hit B.C.’s struggling forest industry

World Trade Organization can’t rule on softwood lumber tariffs

The U.S. government and industry’s trade attack on B.C.’s lumber industry is now nearly four decades old, and prospects are dim that the current round of punitive duties may be overruled by the World Trade Organization.

Even as Canada, the U.S. and Mexico celebrate an updated North American free trade deal, it still doesn’t include softwood lumber. And one of U.S. President Donald Trump’s tactics has been to block the appointment of WTO appeal judges, leaving the appeal panel without a quorum to review the current heavy border tariffs on Canadian lumber as the current terms expired at the end of 2019.

Trump and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer have rejected the WTO’s dispute settlement system as unfair to the U.S. Lighthizer told the U.S. Senate finance committee in March 2019 that blocking appointments is the only way he has to force reforms to the WTO, as the Trump administration works toward trade deals with China and its North American partners.

RELATED: Canada signs new NAFTA deal with U.S., Mexico

RELATED: Laid-off forest workers descend on B.C. legislature

RELATED: B.C. to ‘embed’ Asia trade offices in Canadian embassies

The duties continue to be applied as North American lumber prices have slumped over the past year, and market conditions and cutting restrictions have led to a wave of shutdowns across the B.C. forest industry.

B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson recently returned from the latest industry trade mission to Asia, where Chinese demand is also in decline after a peak in 2013 that saw it briefly overtake the U.S. as the top customer for B.C. lumber in B.C.

B.C. continues its efforts to market timber and wood construction across Asia, where Japan is its longest-standing customer and some gains have been seen in Korea, India, Singapore and Malaysia. B.C.’s network of trade offices, which has focused heavily on forest products to reduce dependency on the U.S. market, have been ordered closed, with staff transferred to Canadian embassies and consulates in the region.

As 2020 dawns, the province has also drastically reduced its stumpage rate for Crown timber, after B.C. producers protested that the system wasn’t responding fast enough to the 2019 decline in prices. Provincial stumpage fees for cutting coastal Crown land timber ard reduced to $8.82 per cubic metre as of Jan. 1, in the latest quarterly adjustment. Stumpage reached a high of $18.73 in January 2019.

The WTO has ruled in Canada’s favour in previous rounds, on U.S. claims that buying Crown-owned timber represents an unfair subsidy to Canadian construction materials. The first round was in 1982, and the fifth remains in place at the start of 2020, with the U.S. Department of Commerce imposing countervailing and “anti-dumping” duties across Canada.

The heaviest import duties fall on B.C.-based companies, with West Fraser facing a total of more than 23 per cent. Tolko is penalized 22 per cent and Canfor duties total more than 20 per cent, combining countervailing and anti-dumping penalties.

Quebec-based Resolute is being assessed a roughly 18 per cent duty, and New Brunswick-based Irving is paying just under 10 per cent, based on the U.S. assessment of their log costs.

On the B.C. coast, Mosaic Forest Management laid off about 2,000 union and non-union employees as well as coastal logging contractors at the end of November, beginning its seasonal shutdown early due to what the company termed “very challenging pricing and market conditions.” Mosaic is a partnership of Island Timberlands and Timberwest, which along with Western Forest Products represents most of the lumber industry on Vancouver Island and the adjacent coast.

Western has been shut down for six months by striking United Steelworkers members, forcing logging contractors off the job. Premier John Horgan has promised aid for contractors, who are losing their homes and equipment.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kimberley Elks continue to support community

In February, the Kimberley Elks Lodge #90 was able to assist with… Continue reading

B.C. firefighters only responding to most life-threatening calls during COVID-19 pandemic

The directive comes after province spoke with paramedics, fire services, according to top doctor

‘An extra $220 every 90 days’: B.C. patients pay more dispensing fees due to prescription limits

Kelowna woman says it’s outrageous to charge for refills every 30 days

East Kootenay Track and Field Club cancels season

The East Kootenay Track and Field Club has made the call to… Continue reading

MLA Clovechok urging government to explain fluctuating prices

He has sent a letter to minister of energy

‘Better days will return’: Queen Elizabeth delivers message amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Queen said crisis reminds her of her first address during World War II in 1940

Emergency aid portal opens Monday, cash could be in bank accounts by end of week: Trudeau

Emergency benefit will provide $2,000 a month for those who have lost their income due to COVID-19

Education, not enforcement: B.C. bylaw officers keeping a watch on physical distancing

A kind word, it turns out, has usually been all people need to hear

COVID-19: Hospitals remain safe for childbirth, say Vancouver Island care providers

North Island Hospital has been asked to share its perinatal COVID-19 response plan

Canadian cadets to mark 103rd anniversary of Vimy Ridge April 9 virtually

Idea of Captain Billie Sheridan in Williams Lake, B.C. who wondered what to do in times of COVID-19

B.C. VIEWS: Pandemic shows need for adequate care home staffing

Seniors in B.C. care homes face challenging times

QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Take this test and find out how well you know Canada’s most popular winter sport

Researchers look at humidity as a weapon in the fight against airborne viruses

Regular hand washing, physical distancing and PPE for health care workers remains best line of defense

Most Read