The Softwood Lumber Deal
This is a column by Kim Pollock of the Steelworkers (ex IWA) in BC re the recent US Trade Court Ruling. I was out of the country at the time, but it strikes me that the basic issue (an un-necesary softwood lumber deal) has been incredibly ignored by the mainstream national media. Our lumber industry is about to be hammered as a result of the lethal combination of a high dollar, the export tax and the the US housing downturn. Log exports (free of the export tax) are already soaring as mills close. This issue is huge for rural
COURT OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE RULING: â€œTHE ULTIMATE IRONYâ€
On October 13 the US Court of International Trade made it official: the Canada-US lumber dispute is over. Canada won. The tariffs and duties imposed by the US on Canadian lumber exports are illegal. The US must pay back every cent of the $5.2 billion collected from Canada since May 2002.
The same court already ruled in July that the tariffs are illegal and that the US must return at least the money collected since November 2004. In its October 13 verdict the CIT reiterated that judgment and ruled that all the money should be paid back.
Unfortunately, Canadians will not be cracking out the champagne any time soon. The courtâ€™s ruling doesnâ€™t matter because Stephen Harperâ€™s government has already volunteered to lose the dispute. Instead of holding on just a few more months to finally reap the full returns of Canadaâ€™s successful legal fight before North American Free Trade Agreement panels, the World Trade Organization and US courts, the Harper government locked Canadian lumber producers into a one-sided deal with George Bush.
In its ruling, the CIT justices recount the story of Canadaâ€™s impressive and successful legal challenges. In actions at the WTO, NAFTA and finally the CIT, Canada won round after round, appeal after appeal. The Americansâ€™ legal avenues were cut off one by one. Back in April, following the defeat of US â€œextraordinary appealsâ€ of NAFTA rulings, it appeared that justice would finally prevail. The US would be forced to concede at last that that there is no threat of injury to US lumber producers from Canadian imports, nor is our lumber unfairly subsidized merely because the Crown owns most of our timber rights.
But then, along came the Harper-Bush deal. Instead of the clear, precise legal determination that flowed from the CIT verdicts, Canada was locked into a deal that capped at 34 percent our share of the US market, even though other countries are still allowed to ship unlimited amounts of duty-free lumber to the US.
Canadian firms will pay a 15 percent border tax, not the zero rate that flows from the CIT judgment. Instead of getting back all the duties and tariffs as the CIT says we ought to, Canadians are forced to pay half a billion dollars in protection money to the same US firms that started the dispute. And they also had to sacrifice half a billion to a shadowy fund â€“ described
as a political slush fund that would â€œgrease the wheelsâ€ in the White House â€“ to be used by George Bush in the run-up to crucial US Congressional elections.
The CITâ€™s ruling would have undermined the Americansâ€™ ability to launch future trade actions â€“ forever. We might have used it to negotiate away the threat of future actions by US companies or the US administration. Instead, weâ€™re locked into a deal that could end in 18 months, allowing US corporations to launch new actions in only 30 month from now â€“ using the half billion we gave them.
While the CIT ruling means there is no basis for claiming Canadian companies receive subsidies, the Harper-Bush deal gives the US oversight of Canadian provincesâ€™ forest laws.
So instead of celebrating, today Canadian, companies, workers and forest-based communities merely feel numb. According to the Vancouver Sunâ€™s Gordon Hamilton, â€œFridayâ€™s court ruling is being viewed by most players as the ultimate irony rather than a chance to kick-start the legal battle again.â€ With the government implementing the agreement â€“ even though a vote in Parliament making the border tax legal might still be weeks away â€“ Canadian firms are already paying the 15-percent border tax. It wonâ€™t be long until producers in the BC Interior and perhaps other regions of Canada start paying a punitive â€œsurge penaltyâ€ that adds another 7 Â½ percent border tax on top of the 15 percent.
And the deal is already biting in Canada. Last week at least ten wood processing plants closed on this side of the border, throwing out of work some 2500 Canadians. â€œThis is insanity,â€ says Russ Cameron of the Independent Lumber Remanufacturers Association, a man with an obvious gift for understatement. â€œWe just gave away a billion dollars and subjected ourselves to a border tax. It doesnâ€™t make a lot of sense. What we have done is rejuvenated the coalition, given them half a billion dollars for when we have to fight the next round.â€
If we needed any convincing that Stephen Harper doesnâ€™t get it, this should do it: This deal is Harperâ€™s Avro Arrow.
Kim Pollock is a Canadian research representative for the United Steelworkers, based in Burnaby, BC.