A University of Toronto economist said JD Irving Ltd was smart to invite U.S. President Donald Trump's commerce secretary to a jobs announcement in Georgia last week.

Secretary Wilbur Ross was front and centre when the company revealed it's building a $400 million tissue plant in Macon, Georgia.

He even joked about JD Irving's success during a speech.

"Their long term perspective is nothing to sneeze at," said Ross. "But if you do have to sneeze, please use a Scottie tissue."

The plant will provide 200 full-time jobs in the city, which is about 120 kilometers south of Atlanta.

'The optics are tremendous for the administration, and that just makes it easier for Canada to get what it wants when we renegotiate NAFTA.' - Daniel Trefler, Toront0-based economist

"I think it's good politics, great politics for Canada. I think it's good business," said Daniel Trefler, who works at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

Trefler said the Trump government is desperate for a win, which could work to Canada's advantage in the country's free trade talks.

"The optics are tremendous for the administration, and that just makes it easier for Canada to get what it wants when we renegotiate NAFTA," he said.

Softwood lumber dispute

Trefler is less optimistic that the event will make a difference in the softwood lumber dispute where the commerce secretary is a key player.

Ross will issue a final determination on anti-dumping duty rates on Sept. 7.

In June, he announced lumber from Canada was being sold in the U.S. for "less than fair value."

He ordered the collection of preliminary tariffs of 6.87 percent on most Canadian companies.

Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador were excluded.

In April, an earlier announcement of countervailing duty rates for Canadian lumber companies gave JD Irving the lowest rate in the country at just 3 percent.

When asked about Ross' invitation to the company's jobs announcement last week, JD Irving's vice president Mary Keith said she was not aware "of any conversations that would have happened."

"Secretary Ross was there as an invited guest. We were certainly pleased to see him there," she said.

Keith said the Macon, Georgia tissue plant will use pulp produced at the JD Irving mill in west Saint John.

"This is a secure and stable customer for Irving Pulp and Paper. So we see it as good news for that operation," she said.

She added the company spent $15 million on engineering and site preparation work at the mill as it readies for Phase 3 of a $250 million modernization project.