07/11/2017 14:41 EDT | Updated 07/11/2017 14:41 EDT

Raymond Chretien: Canada, U.S. Must Solve Lumber Issue Before NAFTA Talks

He called the softwood dispute an "emotional" issue.

Graham Hughe/The Canadian Press
Former Canadian Ambassador to the Unitied States Raymond Chretien attends a business luncheon in Montreal, on November 16, 2016.

Quebec's representative in the softwood lumber dispute between Canada and the United States says that dossier needs to be settled before talks begin on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Raymond Chretien, Canada's former ambassador to the United States, says it would be difficult to have two sets of delicate negotiations going on simultaneously.

Chretien called softwood lumber an "explosive" issue that is "too big, too complex and too emotional" to overlap with NAFTA talks.

"We have to settle softwood before the NAFTA discussions begin," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "Is that possible? I don't know. There's not a lot of time left. We're almost in mid-July.

"The Americans aren't ready, so we're waiting for them. It's up to them to get their house in order."

The Trump administration is expected to publish its negotiating positions for a new North American Free Trade Agreement next week — a public statement required under an agreement with Congress.

After that, negotiations are slated to begin between the United States, Mexico and Canada in about a month.

The Americans aren't ready, so we're waiting for them. It's up to them to get their house in order.

On the softwood lumber file, the Americans added another seven percentage points to the total average import duties on Canadian softwood in late June, accusing the industry of selling wood in the United States at rates lower than in Canada.

They came on top of countervailing duties imposed in April which averaged out at about 20 per cent and range from about three per cent to 24 per cent.

The Conference Board of Canada has said U.S. softwood lumber duties paid at current export levels will cost Canadian producers $1.7 billion a year and cut about 2,200 jobs until a settlement is reached.

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