Sens. Lincoln, Chambliss urge Obama to enforce Softwood Lumber Agreement with Canada

By Agri-Pulse Staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Sept. 29 - Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) wrote President Obama Wednesday urging him to immediately begin consultations with Canada about its consistent efforts to undermine the 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA). The senators said the ongoing violations of the agreement are badly damaging U.S. lumber producers, who employ over 400,000 Americans.

“Canadian lumber producers continue to enjoy unfair advantages directly due to provincial programs which provide logs at extremely discounted rates,” Lincoln said. “In order to protect jobs and ensure an even playing field for lumber producers in Arkansas and across the country, we must hold Canada to the requirements set by the Softwood Lumber Agreement. I urge President Obama to take action on these issues immediately.”

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Sen. Chambliss said, “Just last week, U.S. Trade Representative Kirk criticized China for not playing by the rules and discriminating against U.S. companies. We are only asking the administration to hold Canada to the same standard. Lumber producers in Georgia and across the country signed onto the SLA expecting both sides to faithfully implement the agreement. It's time for the Obama Administration to move forward and stop this type of abuse.”

Over the last two years, more than 40% of the timber harvest from British Columbia's Interior has been graded “lumber reject.” The senators charge that producers in British Columbia have had access to the lowest cost timber, giving them a significant unfair advantage over competitors in the U.S., which is a serious breach of the SLA.

Full text of the letter:

September 29, 2010
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

We write to ask that you act quickly to initiate consultation with the Canadian government under the Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) to address abusive pricing practices being used by the Government of British Columbia. The U.S. government must act to prevent further damage to the already struggling U.S. lumber industry, which has shed thousands of jobs in the depressed housing market.

As you know, the Government of British Columbia has been grading almost half of its timber harvest as Grade 4 or “Lumber Reject” for the past several years. We believe this practice is inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the Softwood Lumber Agreement. The province's sawmills use the timber to sustain their operations, giving them an unfair advantage against lumber producers in the U.S. who must buy lumber at market rates. The damage is severe and the impact on domestic producers is unprecedented amid a depressed market.

We share a long border and an important trading relationship with Canada, and we were both pleased when the Softwood Lumber Agreement was concluded. However, lumber producers in our states gave up the right to file additional trade cases as part of that settlement. Many of them now feel that the U.S. government is often a step behind making sure the Canadians adequately enforce the agreement, allowing abusive practices by important lumber producing Canadian provinces to continue over lengthy periods. We urge you to address this situation quickly by initiating consultation with the Canadians and, if necessary, pursuing a binding settlement through arbitration as provided for under the SLA.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln, Chairman
U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, Ranking Member

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