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Consumers File Amicus Brief With NAFTA Opposing Canadian Softwood Lumber Duties

on 10/8/02.

A friend-of-the-court brief was filed
yesterday on behalf of the National Association of Home Builders and the
National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association urging a North
American Free Trade Agreement bi-national panel to reject 27 percent duties
resulting from a U.S. International Trade Commissions (ITC) finding of "threat
of material injury" to U.S. lumber producers from Canadian softwood lumber
Last May, the ITC found that a potential threat existed, even though it
found no evidence of an actual injury to U.S. industry. It approved
27 percent Commerce Department duties on Canadian softwood lumber imports,
which went into effect later that month.
Yesterday's brief, filed on behalf of two members of the American
Consumers for Affordable Homes (ACAH), an 18 member Alliance of U.S. lumber
consumers and free trade advocates who comprise more than 95 percent of
domestic and imported lumber consumption, is the only way consumers can be
heard on this trade issue, according to an ACAH spokesperson.
"The brief represents lumber dealers, home builders and other industries
that rely on Canadian lumber -- from all regions of the country --
representing the broad cross section of Americans who are being harmed by what
amounts to a 27 percent federal sales tax imposed on lumber," said Susan
Petniunas, spokesperson for the ACAH. "It is unfortunate that trade laws do
not allow consumers direct participation on an equal basis with industry in
disputes like this. After all, consumers are the ones who end up paying the
cost in higher prices, just to benefit a few U.S. companies."
The brief includes extensive documentation that there is little
overlapping among U.S. produced timber species and those imported from Canada,
and that Canadian softwood lumber is not an adequate substitute for U. S.
southern yellow pine in most of its uses.
Each type of lumber has distinct properties, functions and applications
that can make it a poor substitute for other species, homebuilders and lumber
dealers testified before the ITC.
Most lumber produced in the U.S. is southern yellow pine. In Canada, most
timber harvested is spruce pine fir. The U.S. relies on imported lumber to
meet about 30 percent of its needs.
"If the entire 27 percent duties are passed on to U.S. consumers, they
could add as much as $1,000 to the cost of a new home, and price as many as
300,000 families out of the housing market," Petniunas said.
"These potential home buyers would not able to qualify for mortgages," she
added. "And while $1,000 may not sound like much to some people, for many
first-time homeowners and seniors seeking to reduce their housing costs in
retirement, it can make the difference between being able to buy a home or
not," she said.
The Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, led by International Paper,
Potlatch, Plum Creek, Sierra Pacific, Temple Inland, and southern landowners,
filed petitions alleging that they have been harmed by Canadian softwood
lumber imports and asking for countervailing and antidumping duties.
More than 100 members of the U.S. House and Senate have signed resolutions
or written letters to President George W. Bush over the past year, indicating
their support for free trade in lumber, and urging no new taxes or penalties
on consumers. Approximately six million U.S. workers are involved in lumber-
consuming businesses, including homebuilders, remodelers, lumber dealers, and
such industries as window and bed makers. U.S. workers for lumber-consuming
industries outnumber lumber-producing workers by 30 to 1.
ACAH members include American Homeowners Grassroots Alliance, Catamount
Pellet Fuel Corporation, CHEP International, Citizens for a Sound Economy,
Consumers for World Trade, Free Trade Lumber Council, Fremont Forest Group
Corporation, The Home Depot, International Mass Retail Association,
International Sleep Products 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.