Softwood Update- Envoy Says Matter in “Limbo”
Prince George, B.C. – B.C.’s Special Envoy on the Softwood Lumber Agreement, David Emerson, has returned from another meeting in Washington and says the situation there is not yet solid.
“There is still an awful lot of fluidity in the Administration’s approach to NAFTA renegotiations” says Emerson “it’s not entirely clear if softwood lumber is going to be dealt with early and as a one off, or if it could get wrapped into a larger NAFTA negotiations.” He says while there have been suggestions that some are pressing to have softwood lumped into the NAFTA agreement, he has not been getting that indication from those he has spoken with in Washington.
“We would be much better off to have a negotiation earlier rather than later” says Emerson, “Having softwood lumbar wrapped up in a NAFTA negotiation would cause it to be dragged on for multiple years, and litigation probably to continue during that whole time, duties to be continued to be paid during that whole time, but I do believe both the U.S. Administration and Canada, will want to get into a negotiation on softwood lumber, and my own guess is there is a window late summer early fall, and if that doesn’t initiate something meaningful in terms of negotiations, then I think we are in to probably into next year, and perhaps longer.”
“To be really honest, there is still a tremendous amount of turbulence in Washington right now” says Emerson, “There are a lot of positions unfilled in the critical parts of the administration. The signals we’ve seen from some of the more hawkish Senators have continued to be quite aggressively negative.”
Emerson says if there is to be a successful negotiation, the first thing that has to happen is the President’s office has to be enthusiastic ” At this stage, we are cautiously optimistic that is the case” but notes there are divisions even within the President’s office.
Emerson says he is not pessimistic about reaching an agreement “I think what I am underscoring is the sense of limbo we are in right now as the Whitehouse comes to grips with its own approach to NAFTA and an unknown dynamic is underway in Congress.”
The United States is expected to announce its preliminary duties on Canadian softwood before the end of April. Those duties could cripple some small producers, and the impact would ripple out through some communities. Minister of Forests, Steve Thomson says he has been in Toronto this past week to meet with the Softwood Lumber Task Force to examine what supports could be in place not only for producers, but communities and businesses that rely on forestry. “We have been working very closely with the Federal Government both at the Ministerial level and the senior officials level about the support the Federal Government can offer in the way of programming.” He says they need to be “prudent” in dealing with the consequences of the softwood lumber dispute as there are concerns any action could add to the trade dispute.