U.S., Canadian Officials to Meet on Softwood Lumber

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By Peter Menyasz

May 20 — Reaching agreement to avoid a new softwood lumber dispute later in 2016 will top the agenda for Canadian and U.S. officials meeting in Ottawa next week, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said May 20.

Freeland told parliamentarians that she met separately, during the week of May 16, with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark on the issue, and that the bilateral officials' meeting will carry forward the process of reaching a new deal.

“I am pleased to report to this House [of Commons] that a U.S. negotiating team on softwood lumber is coming to Ottawa next week to continue our negotiations,” she said in response to questions from opposition politicians.

She was responding to accusations by British Columbia Member of Parliament Todd Doherty, a member of the opposition Conservative Party, that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government is falling behind on its commitment to forge a new softwood agreement.

Trudeau and President Barack Obama had announced March 10 their agreement to resolve the situation to meet both countries' needs and that they had directed officials to explore all options and report back by June 18 on a potential resolution (48 ITD, 3/11/16).

A Canadian official said the meeting will be held May 26.

Building on Earlier Meeting

The Ottawa meeting will build on the recent meetings between Freeland and USTR Froman at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Arequipa, Peru, Alex Lawrence, spokesman for the trade minister, said May 20 (97 ITD, 5/19/16). “Our objective is to ensure stable access to the U.S. market for Canadian softwood lumber,” Lawrence told Bloomberg BNA

Canadian officials indicated that they had not received confirmation of which U.S. officials will participate in the meetings.

Freeland will not be involved, as she is travelling to Japan and South Korea the week of May 23-27, including accompanying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the G-7 Summit in Ise-Shima, Japan on May 26-27.

Canadian officials confirmed May 20 that the Canadian delegation at the upcoming meeting will be led by Martin Moen, director-general of Global Affairs at Canada's North America and Investment Bureau.

The delegation is also expected to include Global Affairs officials Aaron Fowler, director of the Softwood Lumber Division, and Michael Owen, senior counsel and deputy director of the Trade Law Bureau, as well as Mark Boyland, chief of industry and trade economics at Natural Resources Canada.

The 2006 Canada-U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement expired on Oct. 12, 2015, but included a standstill provision that prevents U.S. producers from launching complaints under U.S. trade remedy laws for a 12-month period.

The Canadian lumber industry remains divided on whether a new agreement is needed to manage bilateral softwood trade. Western Canadian producers strongly support the need for an agreement as providing a stable environment for softwood trade, while Eastern Canadian producers argue that the previous agreement harmed their industry and support a free trade environment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Menyasz in Ottawa at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com