With no end in sight to the latest anti-trade action by the U.S. softwood lumber industry, the annual B.C. wood products trade mission to Asia this week takes on a new urgency.
Forest Minister Doug Donaldson’s first trip landed in Shanghai on the weekend, with more than 30 forest products executives, making it the largest so far from B.C. Stops in China include Changzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, where the Chinese government is conducting a pilot project to use wood frame and wood hybrid construction in its massive urbanization program.
The Jiangsu project uses wood roof trusses and wood infill walls for concrete buildings, to make them more earthquake resistant and cut down the use of concrete that adds to China’s choking urban smog and greenhouse gas emissions.
The trade mission then moves to Japan, long a customer for high-grade B.C. cedar and other lumber used in modern and traditional post-and-beam construction. Both countries are studying wood hybrid high-rise construction, pioneered in B.C. by Okanagan-based Structurlam.
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“We currently export about a third of our forest products to China and Japan and see more opportunity to grow these markets and to showcase how B.C.’s innovative building materials can help reduce the environmental impact of the built environment,” said Susan Yurkovich, president of the Council of Forest Industries and a veteran of Asia trade missions.
B.C. softwood lumber exports to Japan totalled $725 million in 2016, with more than $1 billion in sales to China the same year.
Negotiations to renew Canada’s expired lumber trade agreement with the U.S. remain stalled, with Canadian officials also grappling with U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Lumber has never been covered by NAFTA, and the two countries have worked out a series of deals to compensate the U.S. for what it contends is a subsidy produced by selling timber from Crown land in Canada.
B.C. lumber producers were relieved by the latest countervailing and anti-dumping duties imposed by the U.S. government, which were reduced from a preliminary level to a total of nearly 21 per cent for most exports. High lumber prices have offset the impact of the punitive duties on B.C. forest products companies.
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Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr met with provincial officials Friday to discuss the impact of the U.S. action and how to use a $867 million federal program to support affected workers and diversify markets. The U.S. lumber lobby has also attacked that effort, calling it another subsidy to Canadian producers.