Premier Christy Clark says there may be a “ray of hope” for B.C.’s softwood lumber industry, as negotiations for a new trade agreement with the United States threaten to turn into a legal battle.
The provincial and federal governments have been negotiating with the U.S. to try and finalize a new softwood lumber trade agreement since the previous one expired in October.
As negotiations drag on, governments are preparing for the possibility of legal action, and Clark admitted that President Donald Trump is likely not going to make things any easier.
But speaking at a breakfast event in West Kelowna Jan. 27, she said Trump’s promise to rebuild the American economy might work in Canada’s favour.
“While the Americans are getting more protectionist, Donald Trump, as a builder, knows intuitively that residential housing starts is a major driver for economic growth for Americans,” she said.
“They cannot grow their housing industry without Canadian softwood going into their country, because it’s just too expensive to build and buy without our lumber.”
Because the U.S. can’t produce enough lumber on its own to drive residential building, it’s actually in the country’s best interest to make sure Canadian lumber is filling the void.
Nick Arkle, the co-CEO of Gorman Bros. Lumber Ltd. agrees with Clark, saying Canadian lumber is “critically important” to the U.S.
Arkle said there is a real “tension” right now between the Americans’ desire to “hurt us” and their need for our lumber.
If Trump decides to pile tariffs on Canadian products, Arkle said Canadian producers may go elsewhere, resulting in a hit to the American economy in the process.
As softwood lumber trade disputes have unfolded over the years, Arkle said his company has reduced exports to the U.S. from 80-85 per cent 15 years ago to only about 33 per cent today.
Nevertheless, America is still a huge market for Canadian lumber, and producers are keeping a close eye on the unfolding negotiations.
Clark said her government is going make sure the American middle class, “in the heartland of the States where Donald Trump is best supported,” understand how important Canadian lumber is to their economic prosperity.
She said the government has a “big strategy” to make that happen, but wouldn’t comment on what that might cost.
“I’m not at liberty to reveal it all today,” she said.
Arkle said he’s never seen the government work so hard at softwood lumber negotiations, and is pleased with how it’s being handled so far.