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The lumber industry's 'cozy game'

Canada and the United States are the world's largest trading partners, but there's one thing they've never agreed on: softwood lumber. The dispute dates back hundreds of years, but in the 1980s it turned nasty. The U.S. has slapped billions of dollars of fines on Canadian wood, jeopardizing thousands of jobs. The dispute raises serious questions about trade, sovereignty, and the real nature of Canada-U.S. relations.

Canadian provinces are selling off our great forests for next to nothing, and taxpayers are footing the bill. That's the view of New Democratic Party resources critic Bob Williams. He says the United States is right: we're subsidizing our forestry industry, and we finally got caught. "Personally, I'm ready to sing Uncle Sam's praises," says Williams in this surprising Sunday Morning radio commentary. "He's cleaning up a public policy sore in Canada that's been festering for decades." 
• Stumpage fees are set by individual provinces according to an estimate of the wood's market value. The Canadian government has always maintained that these fees represent true market value.

• In the late 1980s, British Columbia and Quebec raised stumpage rates as "replacement measures" that would eliminate the export tax. These measures met with U.S. approval.

• Many environmentalists believe Canada's stumpage fees are too low. In 2001, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund reported that B.C. forest companies were making stumpage payments hundreds of millions of dollars below provincial target rates. They claimed one third of all logs were bought at the lowest legal rate, and the province received only $10 per truckload of wood cut from public lands. "There's an enormous amount of publicly-owned wood that's being sold for next to nothing," said Sierra scientist Mitch Anderson.

• According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada harvests half a percent of its commercial forests each year, and grows twice that much. It says that half of Canada's forests will never be harvested. By contrast, it says the U.S. cuts twice as much wood each year, from a smaller supply, and that much of the privately-held American lands used for timber cutting have no regulated harvest levels or forest management policies in place.
Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: Jan. 4, 1987
Guest(s): Bob Williams
Host: Linden MacIntyre
Duration: 3:19

Last updated: March 6, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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