Producers rush lumber to U.S. while preparing tariff fight

Canadian producers are preparing the legal fight against U.S. softwood duties.

Canadian lumber producers are preparing for the legal fight against the 27 per cent duties the U.S. government imposed on Canadian softwood exports Wednesday.

They believe there are good grounds to fight the duties, which are expected to devastate the industry, especially in British Columbia.

It was a race to the border Tuesday night, as producers jumped at the last chance to move lumber to U.S. markets without the duty.

But they may have weakened their case by rushing wood across the border before the duties were imposed.

"We've really shot ourselves in the foot and this duty-free period was not a blessing in disguise," said lumber analyst Charles Widman.

Some U.S. lumbermen are pleased with the duties, because they believe along with the U.S. government's trade officials that provincial fees for cutting lumber are too low, and represent a subsidy.

But others think Canada is getting a rough ride. Mark Bordwell, a lumber yard manger in Oroville, Wash., has stockpiled more lumber in the past month than he usually handles in a year.

He disagrees with the new import duties. "You think Canada's getting a bum rap? There's no doubt they are."

While the United States is pushing for provinces to adopt a more market-based system for lumber, Canada has denied the current system is a subsidy, and will appeal the duties at the World Trade Organization and under NAFTA. That process could take up to four years.

Ottawa is also developing an advertising campaign in the United States to build support among American consumers for free trade in Canadian softwood.

Canadian lumber, especially from British Columbia, supplies about a third of the U.S. market and brings $10 billion a year to companies, communities and workers.