Province invests $150M to promote B.C. lumber as Canada-U.S. negotiations continue

The provincial government is moving ahead with a new plan to “enhance the competitiveness” of B.C.’s forest industry at a time when Canada and the U.S. are still at loggerheads over a new softwood lumber deal.

Plan is for B.C. to be competitive globally, though U.S.-Canada lumber deal not yet reached: forest minister

B.C. is eyeing new markets for softwood lumber as negotiations with the U.S. to renew the 2006 deal drag on. (Getty Images)

The provincial government is moving ahead with a new plan to "enhance the competitiveness" of B.C.'s forest industry at a time when Canada and the U.S. are still at loggerheads over reaching a new softwood lumber deal and the threat of U.S.-imposed trade action hangs over the industry.

The province announced a $150-million strategy Aug. 31 to increase the promotion and management of B.C. lumber.

Province watching U.S., Canada negotiations

Steve Thomson, minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations, said the province is  closely watching the ongoing negotiations with the U.S. to renew the 2006 softwood lumber deal that expired nearly a year ago.

"This agreement is critical for us," Thomson said. "We are still significantly apart in terms of what we feel needs to be in the agreement as compared to the current U.S. position in it. It needs to be an agreement that works for British Columbia, works for Canada."

The former softwood lumber agreement was first brokered by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2006, and was subsequently renewed in later years by his Conservative government.

Since the deal expired last October, free trade has been back, meaning there are no tariffs, no thresholds and no restrictions on trade of the widely-used forest products between the two countries.

There has also been a one-year stand-still period — which ends Oct. 12 — during which the U.S. is not allowed to launch trade actions.

Remaining competitive in B.C.

The strategy announced by the B.C. government Aug. 31 is not contingent on a deal being signed before the Oct. 12 deadline.

President of the Council of Forest Industries Susan Yurkovich said it is critical that there are conditions in the province that allow the industry to compete successfully so that it can be sustained and attract investment.

"If [Canada and the U.S.] are unable to reach an agreement we are preparing ourselves for the possibility of trade action," she said.

The strategy that the province announced has 49 actions, including enhancing the promotion of B.C. wood products globally by focusing on the benefits of these products as well as the province's strong regulatory environment.

Other key actions include developing non-traditional uses of wood and wood-pulp fibres, promoting greater use of lower-value wood and wood residue to support the province's climate change goals, as well as restoring forests impacted by the mountain pine beetle and wildfire.

The aim of the strategy is "to enhance the competitiveness of B.C.'s forest sector so that it continues to make investments and provide family-supporting jobs in communities throughout the province," according to a release from the government.

B.C. is one of the world's largest exporters of softwood lumber and the forest sector supports more than 65,000 jobs provincewide.

More than one-third of Canada's forest products come from B.C.

With files from Richard Zussman