U.S. softwood challenge 'frivolous'

B.C.'s former former forestry minister says the complaint against B.C. softwood lumber producers filed by U.S. forestry companies is 'frivolous.'

B.C.'s former former forestry minister says the complaint against B.C. softwood lumber producers filed by U.S. forestry companies is "frivolous."

The U.S. submission was filed with the London Court of International Arbitration in January after consultations last fall failed to result in a resolution.

The claim suggests B.C. trees destroyed by  the pine beetle have been turned into logs or lumber — at low provincial government cutting fees — and shipped to the U.S. market, giving B.C. mills an unfair advantage in softwood sales.

The full extent of the claim is not yet known, but Pat Bell — who was the Minister of Forests, Mines and Lands until this spring — says it's for at least $500 million.

"In our view, this is absolutely a frivolous claim," said Bell.

He is also critical of the timing, saying the U.S. should not be launching an international dispute as it grapples with its own financial woes.

U.S. should embrace trading partners

"When they treat countries like they're treating us right now, it's no wonder that they're in big fiscal trouble," Bell said.

Former B.C. forests minister Pat Bell is critical of the timing of the U.S. softwood lumber complaint. (Jeff Bassett/Canadian Press)

"It seems to me when you have an economy on the rocks as they do in the United States, they should be embracing their trading partners, trying to improve their productivity and create a stronger economy. Actions like this do nothing to support that sort of interest."

The second portion of the claim indicates the U.S. had no idea the market would be flooded with beetle-killed lumber.

"If that's the case, they had their heads buried in the sand because they weren't paying attention to what was going on with mountain pine beetle throughout British Columbia," Bell said.

"It was clearly known what the epidemic looked like, what the challenges would be associated with it and how quickly the timber would degrade."

Canada will have until November to respond. An oral hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27 in Washington, D.C.

A final ruling by the three-member panel of European lawyers is expected by fall.

Canada has said it believes the U.S. case was based on "unfounded" allegations."

With files from the CBC's Jackie Sharkey, The Canadian Press