No end in sight to softwood lumber fight: ambassador

Softwood lumber duties add to high lumber prices that are pricing Americans out of house and home

Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., talks Canada-U.S. relations and softwood lumber dispute at COFI conference. | COFI Conference

With Joe Biden in the Whitehouse, Canada now has an “exceptionally strong policy alignment with the Americans right now,” says Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S.

And given that Biden’s US$2 trillion infrastructure plan includes US$213 billion for various housing initiatives, at some point Americans may wake up to fact that duties on Canadian softwood lumber hurts them by adding to lumber prices, which are at record highs.

Those high prices are estimated to price 3 million would-be American homeowners Americans out of the housing market, Hillman said Thursday at a virtual conference hosted by the Council of Forest Industries (COFI).

“These duties do nothing but harm Americans,” she said 

But resolving the softwood lumber dispute with Canada through negotiation appears to be low on Biden’s priority list right now.

"I think that we will find that the pressure will mount for the American side to want to return to the negotiatiing table," Hillman said. "To be clear, however, neither the administration nor the lumber coalition have signalled an interest in doing so yet."

So Canada will have to continue to litigate the issue. As in the past, a number of rulings have already gone in Canada’s favour.

Duties that had been as high as 23% for some companies were reduced to an average of 9% in November 2020 as a result of Canadian appeals to American and global tribunals.

“This is a positive development of course,” Hillman said. "But obviosuly the impostion of any duties is fully unjustified."

The American forestry sector supplies only 70% of America’s domestic lumber supply, with the rest coming from Canada.

During the pandemic, the American and Canadian construction sector saw a major increase in home renovations, as well as new housing starts, which has pushed the demand and price of lumber to record highs.

It’s estimated those high lumber prices have pushed up the price of an American single family home by US$24,000.