Premier Christy Clark meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, 2016. Lumber trade has been Clark’s top priority with Trudeau since his election. /PMO

Clark seeks Trudeau’s help for forest industry

‘We need action’ to protect B.C. communites

Premier Christy Clark has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to formally request additional Employment Insurance coverage, funds for tree planting work and loans to forest companies as Canada braces for border taxes and trade barriers from U.S. President Donald Trump.

Clark’s letter to Trudeau, sent last week and obtained by Black Press, notes that “unfair American tariffs” imposed in the latest softwood lumber trade dispute would hit B.C. harder than any other province.

The letter calls on the federal government to announce measures by April 24 that were discussed at a recent resource ministers’ meeting.

“The provinces have different priorities but there is broad agreement on the steps that need to be taken to support workers and communities put in harm’s way as a result of the softwood lumber dispute,” Clark wrote. “However, agreement is not enough. We need action.”

Those measures include:

• providing “access to appropriate credit facilities that will allow otherwise sound businesses to continue to operate despite unfair unfair American tariffs”

• Investments in tree planting and other silviculture work to provide forest industry jobs and improve Canada’s greenhouse gas emission performance

• Step up efforts to reduce trade barriers and increase B.C. wood products exports to Asia

If U.S. border tariffs force the closure of B.C. sawmills and manufacturers, Clark calls for EI support and retraining for laid-off workers and “economic diversification in rural communities to help them weather the economic impact.”

B.C. has retained former lumber executive and federal cabinet minister David Emerson as its trade representative in Washington D.C., and this week Trudeau announced former prime minister Brian Mulroney will advise the federal cabinet on changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement that Trump wants to renegotiate.

B.C. lumber exports to the U.S. have risen from $1.6 billion in 2011 to $4.6 billion in 2016, about half of Canada’s total lumber sales south. In the past two years, lumber exports have soared as the latest softwood lumber deal expired and opened a brief window of free trade across the U.S. border.

The U.S. industry is pursuing its fifth unfair trade case against Canadian lumber since 1982, after previous cases examining timber sales from Crown land have been decided in Canada’s favour.

Among the suggestions by Trump’s officials is the removal of the dispute resolution system under NAFTA that has rejected allegations of subsidies for B.C. lumber in the past.

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