British Columbia

Softwood lumber agreement 'critical' to B.C. forestry sector, says industry council

B.C. lumber has been making its way overseas, but an agreement with the U.S. remains crucial to the health of the industry, according to the president of B.C.'s Council of Forest Industries.

Province exploring overseas markets, but the U.S. remains crucial to the health of B.C.'s industry

Reaching a softwood lumber agreement with the U.S. is critical for the health and development of B.C.'s logging industry, says the president of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Frustrations and fears are continuing to mount across B.C.'s forestry sector as negotiations for a softwood lumber agreement have fallen flat.

It's been 18 months since the Canada-U.S softwood lumber agreement expired, and current negotiations have been hampered by U.S. allegations that subsidized Canadian imports are undercutting American producers.

In recent months, B.C. Premier Christy Clark has suggested that growing markets overseas, including the promising Indian market, could serve as a potential buffer to failed negotiations. But according to Susan Yurkovich, president of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries, the U.S. market remains crucial.

"The U.S. is still our largest market by far," Yurkovich told stand-in host Michelle Eliot on CBC's BC Almanac. "So, achieving an agreement that maintains access to that important market is very critical to us."

Overseas markets

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced B.C.'s biggest shipment of bulk lumber in the province's history to India, along with a plan to budget $5 million towards developing a market in the country, At the time, Premier Clark referred to India as "the next China."

Yurkovich admits that softwood lumber producers from B.C.'s Interior are pursuing the market, but it will take some adjustments.

"We're starting to explore opportunities in India," she said. "[But it's] different than China, — [there's] a different product mix, different requirements ... [and] different transportation logistics, but we're starting to dip our toe in that water."

She also expressed optimism that China remains a viable destination for B.C. lumber, despite the death of the Trans-Pacific-Partnership.

"There's a slowdown as well in China, but China is still a significant market. [And] we have a longstanding 40-plus year relationship in Japan.

"We're pursuing trade arrangements in Asian countries."

Frustrations mount

But Yurkovich says the American market remains crucial to the health and stability of B.C.'s logging sector, and that the ongoing softwood lumber dispute has been draining.

"It's very frustrating to be here again," she said.

The softwood lumber industry has been one of the biggest trade disputes between the U.S. and Canada, resulting in years of litigation.

The last Canada-U.S. softwood lumber trade deal expired in 2015. In 2016, the American lumber industry filed a petition asking the U.S. Department of Commerce to investigate Canadian softwood lumber shipments, claiming Canadian lumber is being sold for less than fair value.

The U.S. government is currently investigating the claims. Yurkovich says the allegations are unfounded.

"We wish we could be spending our time working at growing the market, rather than litigation, but we will work rigorously to defend our interests."

With files from CBC's BC Almanac