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Forty-nine members of Congress, led by Congressmen Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), today, introduced a concurrent resolution calling for the end of the U.S./Canada Softwood Lumber Agreement of 1996 (SLA) when it expires on April 1 of this year.
The House Concurrent Resolution (bill number to be assigned later today) calls for the termination of the SLA "with no extension or further quota agreement." It is patterned after a similar resolution introduced in the last session of Congress, which gained 119 House sponsors.
The SLA was signed in 1996 to restrict lumber shipments from Canada to the U.S. It is opposed by a growing list of consumer groups, trade organizations, and companies. Opponents have formed an ad-hoc alliance, American Consumers for Affordable Homes (ACAH), which represents more than 95 percent of U.S. softwood consumption. Industries that depend on lumber as an input and that oppose import restrictions include: manufacturers of value-added wood products, lumber dealers, home builders and remodeling contractors. These industries employ more than 6.5 million workers.
Congressmen Kolbe and Hoyer, the resolution's chief sponsors, charged that the SLA is hurting Americans who are seeking to enter the housing market.
"The Softwood Lumber Agreement has had an adverse impact on the U.S. economy," Kolbe said. "While it panders to a few special interests, it is devastating to consumers, particularly, young American families trying to purchase their first home. By restricting the supply of finished lumber, it artificially and unnecessarily raises the average cost of a new home by up to $1,000. For many young couples starting a new family, that can be the difference between being able or unable to make a down payment on a home or qualify for a home mortgage."
With the $1,000 price increase, approximately 300,000 families, an estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau, are unable to qualify for a mortgage, preventing then from buying their first home.
"The U.S. Canada Softwood Lumber Agreement of 1996 was intended to provide free trade, however it apparently has had the opposite effect, said Representative Hoyer. This agreement is directly affecting consumers by increasing marketplace volatility for consumers of lumber products," Hoyer went on to say.
In addition to the House action, a bipartisan group of U. S. Senators introduced Senate Con. Res. 4 two weeks ago, calling for termination of the SLA.
"It's time for our trade policy to reflect fairness to the American people," said Senator Don Nickles (R-OK), a lead sponsor of the Senate resolution. "Expiration of the SLA will be a major step in creating a climate of compassion for all Americans."
ACAH's members include: Abitibi Consolidated Sales Corporation, CHEP USA, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Consumers for World Trade, Free Trade Lumber Council, Home Depot, International Mass Retail Association, Leggett & Platt Inc., Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform, Manufactured Housing Institute, National Association of Home Builders, National Black Chamber of Commerce, National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, National Retail Federation, and the United States Hispanic Contractors Association.