British Columbia

Christy Clark, envoys, discuss Trump factor in softwood lumber negotiations

“It isn’t a well-oiled machine quite yet," Canada's ambassador to the U.S. said of the inexperienced Trump administration. He says the transition to a new president has added another level of complexity to ongoing softwood lumber negotiations.

Clark says she is 'confident' right team in place to get deal done

David Emerson (left) and Christy Clark participate in a news conference following a special cabinet meeting on Thursday. (Richard Zussman/CBC)

Premier Christy Clark says she is "confident" B.C. and Canada have the right team in place to negotiate a new softwood lumber agreement with the United States despite "unpredictable change" caused by the new Trump presidency.

Clark expressed those sentiments at a Thursday news conference following a special cabinet meeting.

That meeting was attended by Canada's ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, and David Emerson, who was recently appointed B.C.'s trade envoy on softwood lumber.

"We got a briefing from them about what's going on in the administration in the United States and talking a little bit about putting a plan together," she said.

"I'm confident with Ambassador MacNaughton and David Emerson … and of course our incredibly hard-working forest minister and a united industry in British Columbia, we have the team that we need to get an agreement."

Clark says a major change in negotiations is that the Trump administration is more interested in negotiating a deal, which, she says, the Obama administration was not.

"The American negotiators were not interested in getting an agreement," she said. "The previous government in the United States was interested in making sure they got the [Trans Pacific Partnership] done but was not as focused on the softwood lumber agreement.

"This new government is taking an opposite view on one, and we're hoping an opposite view on the other."

President Donald Trump (right) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met earlier in February in Washington. Ambassador David MacNaughton says U.S. officials considered the issue of softwood lumber to be a “minor” issue. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

'Tough stuff'

MacNaughton shared the premier's confidence, saying a plan was being developed to get "the best deal possible."

He and Emerson agreed, however, that softwood negotiations had little to do with the president's office, and said protectionist policies were largely driven by the U.S. industry and their allies in Congress.

"This is tough stuff," MacNaughton said. "We're not subsidizing our lumber. This is just protectionism and we've got an opportunity now, I think, to cut a deal that's good for British Columbia and good for Canada."

MacNaughton says Canadian representatives brought up the issue of softwood lumber with U.S. counterparts several times in the lead-up to Prime Minister Trudeau's visit to Washington and found softwood was considered to be a "minor" issue.

"They see it as being a small, regional issue, and I think the most important thing we did was to impress upon them how important it was to Canada," he said. "I think they got the message."

A section of forest is harvested by loggers near Youbou, B.C., in 2015. Christy CLark says B.C.'s lumber industry supports 60,000 jobs and is central to 140 communities. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

'It isn't a well-oiled machine'

MacNaughton added the inexperience of many in the Trump administration is making things complex.

"It isn't a well-oiled machine quite yet."

And Emerson, in an interview with Radio West host Audrey McKinnon, suspects the new protectionist tone from Washington has the U.S. industry "rubbing its hands with glee."

"We all know it's a rigged game and we expect to see interim duties that will not be sustained over time, but over time, a lot of people can be out of pocket a lot of cash," he said.

"While we may win like we've done in the past, it's a very, very tough road to get from where we are today to get to a solution."

With files from Richard Zussman and CBC Radio One's Radio West

To hear the interview with David Emerson, click the audio labelled: David Emerson decries U.S. protectionism on softwood lumber