Canada challenging U.S. softwood tariffs under the new NAFTA agreement

Canada's minister for international trade has announced the federal government is launching a challenge against U.S. softwood lumber duties under the new NAFTA agreement.

Canada exports about $8 billion worth of softwood lumber to the world every year

The U.S. announced in November it would be doubling the duties it imposes on Canadian softwood lumber. (The Canadian Press)

The federal government is launching a challenge under the new NAFTA agreement against U.S. softwood lumber duties, International trade Minister Mary Ng has announced.

Minister Mary Ng said the government filed noticed of the challenge under Chapter 10 of the Canada, U.S. Mexico Agreement, (CUSMA).

"Canada reaffirms its call for the United States to stop imposing unwarranted duties on Canadian softwood lumber products," Ng said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced in November that it would be imposing an average duty of 17.9 per cent on softwood lumber imported from Canada; twice the previous 8.99 per cent rate.

In May, the U.S. government said it planned to hike the rate to 18.32 per cent, but after further analysis over the summer the agency decided to ratchet down that plan, while still doubling the levy.

The U.S. says Canadian lumber producers dump their product into the U.S. at a lower price than American lumber companies can because they are subsidized. The U.S. puts a tariff on all softwood lumber from Canada to raise its price at the retail level, which encourages consumers to buy American wood.

Canada has long rejected those allegations, and various trade tribunals on the matter have decided in Canada's favour.

"Rulings on this issue have consistently found Canada to be a fair trading partner, and Canada is confident that rulings will continue to find Canada to be one," Ng said in her statement.

Minister of International Trade Mary Ng announced Canada would be challenging U.S. softwood tariffs on Tuesday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Canada exports about $8 billion worth of softwood lumber to the world every year, according to official government data. The U.S. is the largest single buyer.

Not all Canadian lumber will face the same duty, as the U.S. alleges different companies are subsidized to different levels. The final rates are as follows:

  • Canfor Corp., 19.54 per cent. 
  • West Fraser Timber Co., 11.12 per cent.
  • Resolute Forest Products Inc., 29.66 per cent.
  • JD Irving, 15 per cent.

All other Canadian lumber producers will see a baseline tariff of 17.9 per cent.

This is the second time Canada has invoked Chapter 10 of CUSMA. Last year the government filed a similar challenge against the 8.99 per cent duty.

Chapter 10 allows for one of the three countries to request a binational trade panel to rule on a trade dispute, rather than turning to international bodies like the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Canada won a WTO case on softwood lumber In August 2020, but the U.S. appealed — and because the Americans continue to block appointments to the WTO's appellate body, that case was effectively stalled.

Lumber association applauds challenge

The B.C. Lumber Trade Council welcomed news the government is challenging the imposition of duties under CUSMA.

"We will continue to vigorously defend our industry against these baseless claims and thank the government of Canada for standing with forest product workers and their families," council president Susan Yurkovich said in a statement.

Conservative Opposition, meanwhile, criticized the Liberal government for taking too long to act on the softwood duties.

"Conservatives have been calling for the Liberals to adopt a clear and strong stand with the Biden administration to tackle U.S. protectionist policies and deliver tangible results for Canadian workers for months," International Trade Critic Randy Hoback said in an emailed statement.

NDP trade critic Brian Masse said the Liberals should be looking to different markets to avoid reliance on the U.S., and offer incentives for domestic construction to spur demand in Canada.

"This government needs to wake up and truly support value-added industries, not with talk, but with a real plan for our workers," he said.

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