The federal government will give Canadian softwood lumber associations $20 million to help cover legal expenses from the country's trade dispute with the United States.

International Trade Minister Jim Peterson announced the financial support on Friday.

"Canada's softwood lumber industry has faced unprecedented U.S. trade action, and we stand behind our industry," Peterson said in a statement.

"This assistance will help softwood lumber associations as Canada pursues a durable resolution to the dispute."

The United States has collected over $4.5 billion in countervailing and anti-dumping duties on Canadian softwood lumber since May 2002.

Canada appealed the duties through the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement. Panels for both trade bodies ruled in Canada's favour, saying the country's lumber did not pose a threat to U.S. producers.

However, despite the WTO and NAFTA rulings, the United States continues to impose the duties.

Canadian and U.S. lumber industry executives met in Chicago earlier this month to discuss a Canadian government blueprint for renewing negotiations. A second meeting is scheduled for May 3.