Attendees at a meeting of Washington trade professionals held here today were urged to express their concerns to the Bush Administration about its looming 29 percent sales tax on U.S. consumers by putting protectionist duties on all softwood lumber imports from Canada. The U.S. cannot provide sufficient framing lumber and relies on Canada for approximately one-third of its needs.
Lead by International Paper, Potlatch, Plum Creek, Sierra Pacific, Temple Inland, and southern land owners forming the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports filed petitions a year ago alleging that they had been harmed by Canadian softwood lumber imports and asking for countervailing and antidumping duties. The U.S. Commerce Department said it will impose the duties pending a decision by the International Trade Commission which is expected May 2.
"It is very sad that a segment of U.S. forestry producers and land owners have been able to get our government to impose such a ridiculous level of duties on our consumers," said Susan Petniunas, spokesperson for an alliance of 17 national organizations and companies, American Consumers for Affordable Homes (ACAH), which has been fighting the trade action. She spoke to the Washington International Trade Association.
"We believe that the President should intervene and stop this process," she said. "Canada is our most important trading partner and strong supporter of our overall government in many global actions. We should not allow our own government to impose a new sales tax on consumers so that a handful of companies can improve their bottom lines."
Petniunas said that, if the new taxes are imposed, they will add nearly $1,500 to the price of a new home, pricing close to 450,000 families out of the housing market since they can not qualify for mortgages. "Unfortunately, those most impacted are first time homebuyers and seniors seeking to lower housing costs in retirement. While $1,500 may not sound like much to some people, for many, it is the difference between being able to buy a home for the first time, or not."
ACAH believes that there should be no trade restraints on Canadian softwood lumber imports. More than 100 members of the U.S. House and Senate have signed resolutions or written letters to the administration indicating their support for free trade in lumber, and urging no new taxes or penalties on consumers.
"For the first time ever, a panel of consumers was assembled to testify before the ITC in March," Petniunas said. "They represented homebuilders, lumber dealers, The Home Depot, manufactured housing firms, and others. Each clearly pointed out that softwood lumber does not compete with southern yellow pine, and that the charges by the Coalition are false." The panel appealed to the Commissioners to reject the Commerce Department's plan to impose the duties.