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Only Cynics Would See Donated Canadian Softwood As A Threat

A Quebec lumber mill's donation could have helped Florida families rebuild after a hurricane. Then U.S. anti-dumping rules kicked in.

11/27/2017 13:28 EST | Updated 11/27/2017 13:37 EST

When people are hurting, such as after a natural disaster, the normal human reaction is to find a way to help.

In fact, for most people, the immediate reaction is not whether they should offer help, but to think about how they can help out best.

In La Doré, Quebec, where the major employer is a Resolute Forest Products sawmill, the obvious way for them to help victims of a devastating hurricane last August in Florida was to send down some of the softwood lumber they produce at the local mill.

Dmitriy83 via Getty Images

Unifor members working at the mill stood proudly for photos last month as two flatbed train cars loaded with the fruits of their labour were prepared for the journey south. A sign on the side read, in English, "From your friends in Quebec Canada. To Families in Florida, USA."

They were rightfully proud that the lumber, harvested from the area around their community north of Quebec City and milled by their own hands, would be part of the rebuilding of homes thousands of kilometres away.

They knew that the arrival of that lumber, free of charge, would signal to families in Florida that they would get their homes back — and that people they had never met cared about their future. Such support can help people in trying times to find the strength they need to push forward.

Before that could happen, however, there would be a little matter of anti-dumping taxes to be paid.

This is silly, and not what anti-dumping measures are meant to be about.

As the 42,000 pieces of lumber, valued at $100,000, was prepared for shipment, Resolute Chief Executive Officer Richard Garneau said that despite the lumber being a gift, it would still be subject to 4.59 per cent anti-dumping duties imposed by the Donald Trump White House.

This is silly, and not what anti-dumping measures are meant to be about.

Countries bring in anti-dumping duties to address what they see as local economic needs.

The rationale is to discourage other countries from selling products in your market at unfairly low prices — dumping them on the market to drive domestic companies out of business so the importer can take over the market.

The basic rule of thumb is that if the importer is selling its products for less than they are selling the same products at home, it is considered to be dumping. The anti-dumping duty, then, is meant to raise the price to something more fair.

A gift, however, is not dumping. It is a gift, an act of generosity offered in a natural human response to seeing others in need. Resolute made similar donations to those in need in Texas and Puerto Rico.

HÉCTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images
Wilson Hernandez and his family rebuild their house destroyed by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico on Sepp. 26, 2017.

More than that, this ridiculous application of a dumping tax shows just how maddening the entire issue of softwood trade — and the outrageous tariffs imposed on Canadian lumber going to the United States — has become.

The Trump White House imposed tariffs averaging 30 per cent on Canadian softwood, wrongly claiming that the industry here is subsidized and conveniently ignoring the clear evidence that it is not. Talks to resolve the issue have not moved.

Now the U.S. is interpreting a gift meant to help its own people in their time of need as an attempt to gain market share through dumping.

Only a cynic would see a donation to people whose lives were turned upside down by a hurricane as an attempt to gain a market advantage.

All that mattered was the need and the desire to help.

For one thing, I doubt any of the homeowners who received the free lumber will be looking for more lumber in the very near future. Most, I would suspect, have been forced to do all the rebuilding they want to do for a very long time.

After all they have been through, I can't imagine any of these homeowners wants to be a customer of Resolute or any other lumber company for years to come. In other words, this is not a market any company would dump products into in hopes of future gain.

Florida and La Doré are separated by geography. They speak different languages. Even the weather in Northern Quebec and Southern Florida couldn't be more different. None of that mattered, however, in this time of need. All that mattered was the need and the desire to help.

No silly anti-dumping duty could stop that.

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