"Challenging but productive" negotiations between the U.S. and Canada over the Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) haven't produced any agreement yet, the leaders of the two nations said June 29, but they promised "an intensive pace of engagement" will continue up to the current agreement's expiration on Oct. 12.
"The U.S. and Canadian federal governments have made significant advances in understanding our industries’ sensitivities and priorities since March," President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a joint statement. "The United States and Canada are working together to find a path forward that reflects our shared goals and that results in durable and equitable solutions for softwood lumber producers from both countries.
"The United States and Canada have made important progress in our negotiations, but significant differences remain regarding the parameters of the key features," the statement added. "Our governments will explore approaches to ensure effective management of the agreed market share.
Accords of any type have been hard to come by over the decades, as U.S. and Canadian timber mills and their governments dispute claims of unfair trade when Canadian lumber gets marketed in the U.S. American companies claim that Canadian sale of lumber at below-market prices--particularly lumber from trees harvested off of government-owned land--has cost them piles of money and thousands of jobs. Canadian companies dispute those claims but are eager to keep selling to the U.S., as the Canadian lumber industry supports an estimated 370,000 jobs in the country.
The U.S. Lumber Coalition, in a press release issued today, said it welcomed the Obama-Trudeau statement but stuck to its goal of an agreement "sufficiently robust to prevent Canadian producers from exceeding the target market share. The U.S. industry will not give up its rights under the U.S. trade laws in return for an agreement that fails to meet these objectives."
But in Canada, an analyst told the Vancouver Sun newspaper that she questions whether the U.S. is actually determined to settle the dispute.
“President Obama has no incentive to sign a new softwood deal during his last days in office — he’d gain little but the ire of U.S. producers,” said Naomi Christensen of the Canada West Foundation. “An agreement couldn’t be struck over the last 100 days when the issue was given priority, so it’s hard to imagine anything developing over the summer.”
Meanwhile, the former head of Canada's Free Trade Lumber Council was even more pessimistic in his commentary for the Toronto Globe and Mail.
"Surprises are always possible, but as things stand now," Carl Grenier wrote. "Canada and the United States are not entering a new softwood lumber agreement any time soon. ... [T]he United States will negotiate only what its industry wants, and its industry wants nothing but a hard-cap quota controlling the supply of Canadian lumber available in the U.S. market. Canada, for its part, will negotiate only what British Columbia wants, and British Columbia does not want a strict quota."