Senators back push to renew softwood import agreement

by Rob Chaney

MISSOULA — Montana’s Senate delegation co-signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking for continued pressure to get a new Softwood Lumber Agreement with Canada.

“We are disappointed that Canada appears reluctant to follow through on this commitment, which has significantly undermined (the U.S. Trade Representative’s) efforts to reach a final agreement,” Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester wrote on Friday, in a bipartisan message joined by 24 fellow senators.

The Softwood Lumber Agreement was originally signed in 2006 and set limits for Canadian lumber imports to the United States. It expired in 2015, but had a one-year “stand-still” clause allowing time to negotiate a new deal. That expired on Oct. 13.

The United States has proposed that Canadian imports be limited to an agreed share of the U.S. lumber market. Canadian counter-proposals have suggested setting a duty charge on imports crossing the border, but not a quota for how much wood can be sent over.

“Hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs and thousands of U.S. rural communities depend on fairness in trade in softwood lumber,” the senators wrote. “That is why we will continue to urge you, and any future Administration, to seek a fair, effective, and sustainable agreement with Canada on softwood lumber trade, and in the absence of such an agreement, to fully enforce U.S. trade laws.”

U.S. negotiators maintain the Canadian timber industry benefits from government subsidies that give an uncompetitive advantage to cutting trees on Canadian provincial and federal land. The Canadians have successfully argued in international trade court that the U.S. import limits violate free-trade agreements.