More Softwood Lumber Trade Discussions

Last week in your softwood lumber Reporter, Madison’s printed an excerpt from the Globe and Mail:

“International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, who chairs the cabinet committee on Canada-US relations, told The Globe and Mail Tuesday that the White House talks between US President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau next week will also result in steps to conclude a new softwood-lumber agreement.

Sources say US officials are telling Canadian negotiators they can’t renew the deal during a US election year, fearing it could cost the Democrats seats in Congress. Sources say the leaders are expected to announce a process for negotiating a new deal without imposing penalties during those talks. The two leaders may agree to appoint two envoys to handle the dispute, says the Globe and Mail.”

Meanwhile, on Friday, Québec’s Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks, Laurent Lessard, announced he had had an opportunity to speak to Freeland. Minister Lessard took advantage of their conversation to mention that the Québec government intends to ensure that the particularities of its forest regime are recognized during the process to renew the softwood lumber agreement.”

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This morning Madison’s spoke to representatives of the US Lumber Coalition, who reiterated they “remain supportive of the two governments negotiating a new effective and sustainable agreement […] hope this gets done before the October 31 deadline.”

There is much press coverage, especially in Canada, about the upcoming US State Dinner in Washington, DC, with President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau and their wives. The fact of a looming trade complication between the two countries is putting a crimp in what otherwise promises to be a sparkling event.

However, suggestions that a single conversation…or indeed even these two leaders in this context…could resolve or mitigate the issue are misplaced.

‘The only sure way to avoid litigation is to negotiate a new deal, to be very blunt with you,’ lead Canadian trade negotiator Kirsten Hillman told the Commons trade committee last month,” according to CBC Sunday. ”

The idea that softwood lumber is in any way significant enough to US legislation to impact proceedings in either the House or the Senate is laughable, sources in America told Madison’s today. As well, there is no plausible basis to suggest the timing of US national elections will necessarily impede an agreement.

The reality is that US and Canadian industry players and stakeholders inform their respective federal, and provincial, leaders, who then meet and try to find a workable solution.

History has shown that for softwood lumber, this process is cumbersome, time consuming, dramatic, and extremely litigious. As Madison’s has said several times:

Former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley says the ongoing dispute is ‘the gift that just keeps on giving to big Washington law firms.’
‘If you’re sending your kid to law school in the United States, tell him or her to take trade law and specialize in lumber.’” — CBC

It is a fact that ALL the law firms handling any Canada-US softwood lumber trade issues are American, based in Washington, DC. This, whichever side they are on. It is obvious these service providers have a vested interest generating lengthy processes. And higher invoices, of course.