Premier Christy Clark visits Partap Forest Products in Maple Ridge Tuesday to announce response to U.S. duties.

UPDATE: Province will buy lumber to protect mills: Clark

20% duties on mills across Canada, United Steelworkers protest 'direct attack' on Canadian softwood industry

Premier Christy Clark says one of the strategies B.C. can use to protect small lumber producers from U.S. trade action is to buy lumber to stockpile for future housing projects.

Clark visited a Maple Ridge remanufacturing mill Tuesday to respond to the U.S. Commerce Department’s preliminary decision to impose duties of about 20 per cent on Canadian lumber exports, making it retroactive for the first time in the long-running dispute.

Clark said small producers are “the meat in the sandwich” in a battle between major players, and she expected to speak Tuesday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about additional Employment Insurance and other measures that could help affected workers.

The latest lumber war is a particular threat to smaller producers with fewer cash reserves to pay up-front penalties, said Duncan Davies, CEO of Interfor and co-chair of the B.C. Lumber Trade Council.

Davies said Interfor has expanded into the U.S. primarily because logs can be had cheaper in some areas there than in B.C., which shows the inaccuracy of U.S. claims that Canadian logs are subsidizing mills.

The U.S. Commerce Department reviewed submissions from major producers in Canada, including three in B.C. The preliminary decision found rates of subsidization 20.26 per cent for Canfor, 19.5 per cent for Tolko and 24.12 per cent for West Fraser. Other producers across Canada are assessed at 19.88, from giant Interfor to small producers selling to the U.S.

Susan Yurkovich, president of the B.C. Lumber Trade Council, said the U.S. industry trade action is designed to push up lumber prices for their benefit. The decision found “critical circumstances,” which means duties are retroactive for 90 days. Yurkovich said that was unprecedented for the Department of Commerce and “entirely arbitrary.”

Clark vowed to fight the preliminary ruling and convince U.S. officials that B.C. lumber is a key component of the U.S. housing industry.

“We will only accept a new agreement that works for B.C.,” Clark said. “We will fight, and we will win as we have before.”

The U.S. lumber coalition that filed the trade action, its fifth since the 1980s, cheered the decision and noted that a second preliminary ruling on its claim of lumber “dumping” from Canada is due June 23. Dumping duties would be added to countervailing duties.

The ruling comes as the B.C. Liberal Party and NDP trade accusations about the influence of U.S. lumber interests in their campaigns. The NDP pointed to donations to the B.C. Liberals from Weyerhaueser, a member of the U.S. lumber industry coalition pushing for import duties that also has operations in B.C.

The B.C. Liberals question record support for the NDP from the United Steelworkers, a Pittsburgh-based union that took over the former International Woodworkers of America representing employees in the B.C. forest industry.

Steelworkers international president Leo Gerard stood with U.S. President Donald Trump recently to endorse an investigation of steel trade into the U.S., but he issued a statement Tuesday decrying the lumber action.

“The United Steelworkers sees Tuesday’s announcement as a direct attack on our Canadian industry, and more broadly on the trade relationship between our two countries,” Gerard said.