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Several representatives of U.S. consumer interests are in Ottawa today to meet with the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Paul Celucci, Canadian trade officials including Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew, and Parliamentary leaders, urging that Canada resist negotiating a new trade restraint on softwood lumber exports to the U.S. The delegation represents the 15-member alliance, American Consumers for Affordable Homes (ACAH). The delegation emphasized U.S. consumer support for moving the two countries to free trade in lumber and said that there are more than 100 members of the U.S. Congress who are expressing their support for U.S. consumer interests instead of the protectionist interests of the U.S. industry.
Some U.S. forestry companies have filed petitions asking for anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Canadian exports of up to 78 percent. These petitions are under review with preliminary decisions expected by the end of the month.
"It is important for Canadians to know that U.S. consumer groups and over 100 members of the Senate and House of Representatives oppose protectionist duties, taxes or quotas on lumber," said Bobby Rayburn, a homebuilder from Jackson, Miss., and vice president/secretary of the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) that has 203,000 member firms throughout the U.S. "The trade restraints over the past 20 years have caused major harm to U.S. consumers, especially young and minority households struggling to purchase their first home." Barry Rutenberg, who chairs the NAHB Materials Task Force, and operates his construction company in Florida, also participated in the meetings.
The delegation said that it wanted to meet the new U.S. Ambassador in Canada to demonstrate the important linkage of the U.S. consumers to the need for Canadian softwood lumber, and to urge his support within the Bush Administration for ending trade restraints with the President.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau calculations, the 78 percent duties requested by some U.S. producers, would eliminate more than 1.2 million families from qualifying for mortgages, adding up to $4,000 to the cost of a new home.
"This outlandish claim harms consumers and the more than 6 million U.S. workers who make their living working with lumber," said Mike Fritz, president of Rugg Lumber Co. with lumberyards in Greenfield and Northampton Massachusetts.
He is the chair-elect of the National Lumber and Building Materials Association that represents 9,000 locally owned lumber dealer firms throughout the U.S. Fritz pointed out that his members have been significantly impacted by the price volatility caused by trade restraints on Canadian softwood.
Home Depot representative Gene Ormand told government officials that the uses of softwood lumber cannot be met by the U.S. supply, and that southern yellow pine is no substitute for Canadian spruce pine fir for most construction needs. "Quite frankly, if we cannot get the types of softwood lumber our customers need, we will need to look elsewhere. Canada is the logical trading partner for this product, and ending trade restraints is critical." In the U.S., Home Depot has stores in 48 states, and operations in Chile, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Canada.
"U.S. producers have been trying anything they can to intimidate Canadian producers, trying to force them to a negotiating table so that they can continue to restrain the free flow of softwood lumber," said Shawn Conrad, vice president of The International Sleep Products Association represents bed manufacturers with 600 factories in the U.S., and also has Canadian members. He explained that Canadian lumber is critical in manufacturing bed frames due to the tight tolerance levels required, moisture content, warping and cupping that cannot be duplicated by southern yellow pine. "There are a lot of uses for softwood lumber in products like bed frames, windows, and wooden pallets that also affect consumers. Higher costs caused by trade restraints are nothing more than hidden taxes imposed by the U.S. lumber interests."
Susan Petniunas, spokesperson for the ACAH said that while some characterize this as a lumber producer's issue, "it clearly is not. Consumer viewpoints have been ignored in prior considerations of this issue, but clearly bear the brunt of any trade restraint imposed. Their views should be considered in what we hope will be a fair, open process."
Other U.S. alliance include CHEP USA, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Consumers for World Trade, Free Trade Lumber Council, International Mass Retail Association, Leggett & Platt Inc., Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform, Manufactured Housing Institute, National Black Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation, and the United States Hispanic Contractors Association.