VICTORIA — British Columbia Premier John Horgan says Canada and the United States are close to reaching a softwood lumber trade deal that could come as early as next month.
Horgan made the comments Thursday during a conference call from Washington, D.C., following two days of meetings with trade officials from President Donald Trump's administration and Canada's ambassador to the U.S.
Horgan said talks between Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross are ongoing and it appears they are close to reaching a market-share agreement.
"There have been intense negotiations between Mr. Ross and Minister Freeland, and they're very close to an agreement but there are challenges with the representatives on the (U.S. Lumber) Coalition that brought the dispute to a head," Horgan said.
The coalition, which represents American lumber producers, filed a petition last November asking the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission to limit Canadian lumber shipments. The group claimed Canada unfairly subsidizes its lumber industry, harming U.S. workers who are experiencing mounting unemployment.
Trump team slapped tariffs on Canadian wood
Earlier this year, the Trump administration imposed tariffs and duties averaging 27 per cent against Canadian softwood producers.
Horgan said he stressed the need for a renewed lumber trade pact that is fair to his province, Canada's largest exporter of softwood lumber.
The B.C. premier met with Ross and Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade secretary, and one of the top officials in charge of negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement. Horgan also met with Washington state Rep. Congressman Dave Reichert, who sits on the Ways and Means committee overseeing tax-writing policy.
"I just wanted to make the case again to these senior representatives that B.C. wants a fair deal," Horgan said. "We want to make sure it's a deal that is in the interests of B.C., and as the largest player on the Canadian side in terms of market share, we want to make sure they understand we are not prepared to give and give and give."
I made it abundantly clear to Minister Freeland and to the prime minister that this is the highest priority...John Horgan
British Columbia produces about half of Canada's softwood lumber.
Last year, the province's forest industry accounted for $14 billion in exports, amounting to 35 per cent of all B.C. goods exported. Forestry directly employs more than 60,000 people in over 140 communities around B.C.
Horgan said he wanted to impress upon U.S. trade officials the economic importance of the forest industry to thousands of families and hundreds of communities. He said he also made that case in Ottawa this week when he met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"I made it abundantly clear to Minister Freeland and to the prime minister that this is the highest priority we have in terms of protecting jobs and growing our economy," Horgan said.
The 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement between Canada and the United States expired on Oct. 12, 2015.
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