Forest industry waits for Pacific trade deal

B.C. wood products are shut out of some Asian countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei by high import tariffs

Wood products producers are encouraged by the Trudeau government’s decision to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the first step to ratifying a sweeping agreement with Japan, Australia and other Asian countries.

International Trade Minister Christia Freeland said this week she will take the next “technical step,” allowing the TPP to be debated in the House of Commons. It’s the first signal the Liberals will continue the work started by the Conservative government, which warned against being left out as the U.S. and Mexico go ahead with the TPP.

“All in all we think this is a pretty good agreement,” said Paul Lansbergen, acting president of the Forest Products Association of Canada, in an interview from Vancouver.

“A lot of our industry is in rural Canada, and I think it’s important for the government to recognize the importance of the well-paying jobs that we provide,” he said. “And when our economy is having some rough times, particularly oil and gas, really the government should be thinking about how our economy is diversified.”

Lansbergen said the deal not only phases out tariffs against Canadian forest products, it has clear provisions to settle disputes, and rules around blocking imports due to concerns about insects or other contaminants.

Some of the TPP partners currently have few forest product imports from Canada because of “prohibitive” tariffs, he said. Vietnam applies tariffs of up to 31 per cent, Malaysia up to 40 per cent and Brunei up to 20 per cent, which would be phased out under TPP.

Japan, a long-time customer for B.C. lumber, has tariffs of up to 10 per cent on forestry and value-added products such as oriented strandboard and engineered wood.

Forest product exports have done well with the low Canadian dollar, with sales to the U.S. returning to historic levels after a collapse of the U.S. housing market in 2008.

Canada’s softwood lumber agreement with the U.S. expired last fall, but bilateral wood products trade is exempt from the TPP as it was left out of NAFTA.

 

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