The American Consumers for Affordable Homes (ACAH), a 14-member alliance of consumer groups, home builders, and lumber dealers, applauded the U.S. and Canadian governments for allowing the U.S./Canada Softwood Lumber Agreement of 1996 (SLA) to expire at midnight last night. However, ACAH members today called for vigilance against any new proposals that would harm American consumers.
"The quota system under the SLA amounted to a hidden lumber tax on U.S. lumber consumers and lumber-using industries. Its demise is long overdue," said Susan Petniunas, ACAH spokesperson. "However, we must be watchful in the that pressures from U.S. protectionist lumber producers on the Bush administration and Congress do not result in re-imposing yet another hidden tax on homebuyers and the U.S. consumer through some new trade restraint."
"Unfortunately, we may face the inevitable uncertainty that will come if this issue is adjudicated by the International Trade Commission when U.S. lumber producers seek a countervailing duty (CVD) or other trade restraint," the ACAH said in a letter sent today to the President and Bush administration and members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The ACAH believes that action under existing U.S. trade law is the only appropriate course for addressing the lumber industry's complaints. U.S. lumber producers have tried three times before to prove their case and such legal processes are a better and more fair option for consumers than arbitrary quotas, export taxes, or other such trade restraints.
Due to the quota on Canadian lumber coming into the United States, the SLA raised the cost of a new home by about $1,000. The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated a price increase of that magnitude results in approximately 300,000 families not qualifying for a mortgage each year.
The consumer alliance called upon Senators and Representatives to continue to support two bipartisan resolutions urging free trade and no new trade restraint on lumber: H. Con. Res. 45 was introduced in the House by Representatives Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and now has approximately 75 co-sponsors; S. Con. Res. 4 has 10 co-sponsors in the Senate.
These resolutions express Congressional support for free trade of softwood lumber between the United States and Canada, inclusion of all stakeholders in discussions regarding trade of softwood lumber, and a competitive North American market for softwood lumber," the letter read. "Further, these resolutions outline the negative impact of the SLA on housing affordability in America and that there should be no renegotiation of trade restraints -- it is time for free trade."
"Softwood lumber has a huge impact on the U.S. economy. The home building sector is responsible for employing more than six million workers," the letter continues. "The economic health of this nation relies on a strong housing market and the ability to provide the American dream of home ownership. The ACAH encourages (members of Congress) to consider the needs of prospective homebuyers
-- and those who are remodeling or adding to their homes-throughout the country on issues related to softwood lumber trade between the U.S."
ACAH members include CHEP USA, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Consumers for World Trade, Free Trade Lumber Council, The 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.