Province will hire experts to review forestry market for fight against U.S. duties
Government maintains duties against New Brunswick wood are 'unfair trade action'
The New Brunswick government will hire an expert firm to review the province's forestry market as part of its ongoing fight against softwood anti-dumping duties announced by the U.S. Commerce Department earlier this month.
The province maintains the U.S. duties are "unfair trade actions" against the New Brunswick softwood lumber industry and Thursday announced the steps it's taking to protect the "very valued" industry that employs thousands.
The other measures include:
- Working to improve and develop strategic corridors to improve transportation efficiency for industries, including the forest industry.
- Working to enhance innovation in the forestry industry through increased research, expanding opportunities such as biomass and biofuels, and by promoting the markets that exist for value-added wood products from New Brunswick.
- Working to protect the forest sector by increasing efforts to monitor and combat the threat of the spruce budworm through continued partnerships with industry and the federal government.
The measures, developed in consultation with stakeholders, are designed to "manage the unfair pressure on the industry while working towards a positive resolution," said Energy and Resource Development Minister Rick Doucet.
"We stand by our New Brunswick lumber producers and the local communities who rely on this important sector," Doucet said during a news conference held at the Hugh John Flemming Forestry Complex in Fredericton.
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Doucet had few details about the expert review to be done, including the firm that will do it, its expertise, how it will be chosen and when, what it will cost and when it will finish.
Government officials said only that the experts will be "the best."
New Brunswick producers got hit with a duty of nearly 21 per cent in Washington's final determination, although J.D. Irving Ltd. fared better with a 10 per cent duty.
A low Canadian dollar and strong demand for lumber in the U.S. has kept the industry moving with no layoffs so far, according to Mike Legere, the executive director of Forest NB.
"To date, conditions are good, commodity prices are high," he said. "We've got very good housing starts in the U.S."
We are confident we will prevail through this litigation process.- Roger Melanson, treasury board president
But that could easily change, said Legere.
"The initiatives should certainly help our industry to get a little bit more confidence that we're going to be stable and supported moving forward," he said.
Jeff Carr, the Progressive Conservative critic, isn't convinced, after not yet seeing results from David Wilkins, hired by the province in May as a special envoy to Washington on trade and softwood lumber.
"I'm a little skeptical that this is anything new," he said.
"I'm still a little concerned that we've spent $40,000 a month for David Wilkins and seen zero results, basically."
Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada from 2005 to 2009, has been working to advance New Brunswick's interests in Washington, said Treasury Board President Roger Melanson, who is also the minister responsible for trade policy.
"History is on our side," Melanson, noting Canada fought four previous softwood lumber decisions through litigation and was successful. "We are confident we will prevail through this litigation process."
Report will be made public
"We wanted to make sure that the auditor general's office was informed and we're pursuing with this action," said Melanson.
The auditor general released a report in 2015 criticizing the government's practices when it came to managing the balance between Crown timber and the supply from private woodlots.
That report was specifically cited by the U.S. Trade Commission that ultimately imposed the new tarriffs, and Melanson said all elements that were used by the commission to make its decision will be examined by the experts.
The province's forestry sector contends the report was inaccurate and that U.S. authorities used it to claim the province is distorting or driving down private wood prices.
No terms of reference for the independent review have been determined yet and no timeline set, said Melanson.
But the report will be made public once complete, he said.
- A previous version of this story stated that Minister Roger Melanson made it clear the outside experts would review the auditor general's 2015 report that was critical of the province's forestry management practices. While the minister stated that all elements used by the U.S. Trade Commission to come to its decision will be examined, a government spokesman has since clarified that it will be up to the experts to decide whether that examination will include the auditor general's report.Dec 01, 2017 7:00 PM AT
With files from Connell Smith