Final rate for softwood lumber duties doubled

Combined anti-dumping and countervailing duties set at 18%

More than $5 billion collected in duties on Canadian softwood lumber exports to U.S. since 2017. | Shutterstock

The question of whether the U.S. would be any less protectionist under Joe Biden than it was under Donald Trump was answered yet again today with a resounding “no,” as the U.S. Department of Commerce’s set final countervailing and antidumping duties on Canadian softwood lumber.

The combined rates had been set at about 9%, until the U.S. Commerce Department arrived at final determination. The final rates were set today at a combined rate of 18%.

“While not unexpected, we are disappointed with the doubling of the duties on softwood lumber for Canadian producers,” said Council of Forest Industries (COFI) CEO Susan Yurkovich.

“As we have repeatedly stated, these unfair duties hurt not only B.C. businesses and workers, but also U.S. consumers looking to repair, remodel and build new homes. As U.S. producers remain unable to meet domestic demand, these duties are a threat to post-pandemic recovery on both sides of the border.”

There was some hope that Biden would be more willing than Trump to work with Canada to settle the never-ending story of softwood lumber duties with some new softwood lumber agreement, but that has not happened.

Over the last few decades, American lumber producers haved asked for anti-dumping and countervailing duties to be levied on imports from Canada as soon as softwood lumber agreements between Canada and the U.S. expire. Such was the case in 2017, when the last softwood lumber agreement ended and American producers lodged complaints that led to the resumption of duties on imports of Canadian softwood lumber

Canada has, in the past, won most disputes over softwood duties at international trade tribunals. They are almost always overruled by international trade organizations, like the World Trade Organization.

That has never stopped the American lumber industry from pushing for duties to protect against what they argue is unfair competition from Canada, where most working forests are Crown owned, as opposed to the U.S., where most working forest land is privately owned.

Responding to the new duties, Alberta's Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development Nate Horner said that $5.6 billion in softwood lumber duties have been collected from Canadian forestry companies since 2017.

“The U.S. is a critical customer for us, with 91 per cent ($1.2 billion) of our softwood lumber exports going there," Horner said.

In a news release, the B.C. government called on Ottawa "to vigorously defend against this unfair U.S. trade action on softwood lumber through all of the dispute settlement processes available to us."