New Brunswick

New Brunswick hires ex-U.S. ambassador as special envoy in softwood tariff dispute

The Gallant government has appointed David Wilkins, a former United States ambassador to Canada, as New Brunswick's special envoy in the softwood lumber tariff dispute, under a contract worth nearly $658,000.

David Wilkins will assist with lobby efforts, advise on investment opportunities

David Wilkins will be coming to New Brunswick to meet with government and industry officials 'as soon as possible,' said Treasury Board president Roger Melanson, who is also the minister responsible for trade policy. (CBC News)

The Gallant government has appointed a former United States ambassador to Canada as New Brunswick's special envoy in the softwood lumber tariff dispute.

David Wilkins, who served from 2005 to 2009 during the George W. Bush administration, begins his one-year contract effective immediately, the government announced Friday.

It comes after the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump announced it will slap tariffs of between three and 24 per cent on softwood lumber from Canada, which the New Brunswick government has warned could lead to mill closures and job losses.

"Ambassador Wilkins brings a wealth of inside knowledge, expertise and strategic know-how to his role," said Treasury Board president Roger Melanson, who is also the minister responsible for trade policy.

"We are fortunate to have him advocating for New Brunswick's interests in Washington, not only on the softwood lumber file, but on investment, trade and economic development initiatives."

$658K contract

The province is paying Wilkins $40,000 US per month for the one-year term, nearly $658,000 in Canadian dollars.

Melanson had initially declined to disclose the compensation for Wilkins, who is a partner at a law firm and lobby group based in Columbia, S.C.

"I think today it's actually important we focus on the reason why we're retaining his service and what he'll be able to offer New Brunswick industries," he said. "The provincial government believes it's the right investment and the right person to do the job."

He stressed the importance of the forestry industry, which contributes more than $1.45 billion to the provincial economy each year and employs about 22,000 New Brunswickers.

Up to 25 sawmills owned by 14 companies could suffer in the trade dispute, government officials have said.

Several hours after Melanson spoke to CBC News, government spokesperson Bonnie Doyle Creber revealed the financial details of Wilkins' contract in an email.

Helped resolve earlier dispute

Melanson also noted that Wilkins helped resolve a previous softwood lumber dispute between the two countries within 15 months of becoming ambassador. That deal earned the support of "most of the Canadian lumber industry," according to the government.

As New Brunswick's special envoy, Wilkins will assist with lobbying efforts, promote the province's business, trade and investment opportunities in the U.S., and provide the Gallant government with advice on issues, said Melanson.

Wilkins will not, however, be the negotiator, he said.

"Negotiations of any agreement on softwood lumber will be done by global affairs, the federal government of Canada and the department of commerce and the federal government of the United States.

"But we want to be in a position to be able to advocate on the south side of the border what is the merits of our two economies working well together and being able to trade freely the goods and services."

Wilkins will come to New Brunswick "as soon as possible" to meet with government and industry officials, said Melanson.

"It has always been evident to me that New Brunswick and the United States have a very strong and mutually beneficial trading relationship," Wilkins said in a statement. "I am honoured to work in support of that relationship in Washington."