Anticipated Duties on Softwood Lumber to Dampen Canadian Wood Products Industry Outlook

Canada’s wood products manufacturers are on track to post pre-tax profits of $1.4 billion this year—their highest levels since 2004, according to The Confer- ence Board of Canada’s Canadian Industrial Outlook: Canada’s Wood Products Manufacturing Industry, released Wednesday. Going forward, however, the imposition of US duties on softwood lumber will slow export growth and weigh on the industry’s bottom line.

Canadian Industrial Outlook: Canada’s Wood Products Manufacturing Industry

“With no end in sight for the longstanding trade dispute between the US and Canada on softwood lumber and increasingly protectionist sentiment south of the border, it is more likely that Canadian producers will face trade action by the US and heightened restrictions in the coming year,” said Michael Burt, Director, Industrial Trends.

Canada Softwood Lumber Outlook 2017: Conference Board of Canada

Trade action will likely come in the form of import duties, which would increase the costs of exporting to the US With softwood lumber accounting for more than half of industry’s wood product exports to the US, various producers must evaluate whether they can continue to export to the US profitably.”

Michael Burt, Director, Industrial Trends


  • After seeing pre-tax profits shrink in 2015, wood products manufacturers can expect to see pre-tax profits reach $1.4 billion this year.
  • With no new agreement in sight, it is increasingly likely that Canadian producers will face heightened restrictions on lumber exports to the US in the coming year.
  • In addition to potential trade protectionism from the US, the Canadian lumber industry will have to contend with decreased demand from China and an aging workforce.


The anticipated imposition of duties by the US on Canadian lumber will have numerous implications for the wood products industry. In the near-term, duties are expected to cut Canada’s shipments to the United States. However, the severity of the production cuts will depend on factors such as the location and size of the sawmills. Producers in Central and Eastern Canada are heavily dependent on US demand. In the case of Ontario, over 95 per cent of wood exports are destined south of the border. Smaller firms will also face greater difficulties in adapting to the new import duties as they typical- ly have less ability to redirect production to distant markets.

Western Canadian producers will also be made worse off by the new tariff, but in contrast to the rest of Canada, BC producers have made great inroads in diversifying their trading partners, with more than one-third of its wood product exports destined for markets beyond the US. Moreover, large companies have been able to make significant investments in US mills, diversification that should allow these companies to better manage the duties when they come into play.


Current economic conditions also play a role. In the current economic climate, a relatively healthy US economy is supporting a strong housing market, with housing starts forecast to grow to 1.79 million units by 2021. Domestic American firms would likely only satisfy 65 to 70 per cent of US lumber demand. As a result, the US will continue to need to source a decent portion of their lumber demand through imports.

Revenues will record a sturdy gain in 2016 as both production and prices are forecast to push higher, resulting in an uptick in industry margins and profitability this year.