- Current 27 percent countervailing and antidumping duties harm consumers
and have a negative impact on housing affordability in the U.S.
- Canada urged to continue - not suspend or drop - appeals at WTO and
NAFTA panels as an opportunity to win free trade in lumber
- Consumer, lumber users' opinions should be considered by Commerce
WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- Representatives of U.S. consumer interests welcomed efforts by the Commerce Department announced yesterday to seek a long-term solution to the prolonged and complex dispute with Canada over softwood lumber imports. American Consumers for Affordable Homes (ACAH), an alliance of 18 large national organizations and companies representing more than 95 percent of U.S. lumber consumption, said however that it remains opposed to imposing any border measures -- import or export taxes or quotas -- that only end up harming consumers.
The Commerce Department imposed 27 percent countervailing and antidumping duties on lumber imports last summer, duties that consumers consider a federally imposed sales tax on lumber that harms homebuyers and impacts housing affordability in the U.S.
The duties were imposed at the urging of a few large U.S. producers, led by International Paper, Potlatch, Plum Creek, Sierra Pacific, Temple Inland, and southern land owners forming the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, alleging that they had been harmed by Canadian softwood lumber, based on a perceived threat to the industry, although no evidence of actual injury was found.
"The new Commerce Department initiative, in the form of policy bulletins dictating forest practice changes the U.S. wants Canada to make, is certainly welcomed to restart discussions and seek a resolution to this issue" said Susan Petniunas, spokesperson for ACAH. "However, we remain opposed to any efforts to tax U.S. lumber consumers, including import or export taxes."
"The U.S. requires at least a third of its lumber in the form of imports, and Canada is the best source for it," she said. "We should move to free and open markets between our two countries."
In the policy draft, Commerce Undersecretary Grant Aldonas said he would seek input from lumber producers. "It is equally important that he also seek input from those who use lumber and consumer interests, something that ACAH will aggressively pursue," Petniunas said.
Petniunas said that recent proposals by Seattle-based forest producer Weyerhaeuser, the British Columbia government, and the British Columbia forestry industry association also are each a long way from relieving the burden of the lumber dispute on consumers.
"Some of these proposals call for Canada to drop or suspend its appeals of the U.S. countervail and antidumping duties before the World Trade Organization and the North America Free Trade Agreement panels," she said. "We believe that would be a significant error on the part of Canada. Canada has already won major decisions earlier this year, and we are convinced that if the appeals are allowed to conclude in a timely manner, Canada will win again. This is the best route to free trade in lumber, and we hope Canada will resist any temptation to stop those appeals, even if it does hold discussions or look at interim measures."
She noted that the Commerce proposal clearly indicates that it is aware of the roles the appeal processes play in an eventual solution to the problem, and that the ACAH believes that one reason Commerce is pushing for a solution now is because it too believes it will continue to lose in the WTO and NAFTA.
"Unfortunately, the Coalition's attempt to fix prices backfired, and lumber prices have dropped significantly," Petniunas added. "All they have succeeded in doing is creating great volatility in the market once again, and to continue their negative impact on housing affordability."
"The final 27 percent countervailing and antidumping duties on finished lumber for framing homes and remodeling, even at lower lumber prices, may increase the average cost of a new home by as much as $1,000," she said. "Based on information from the U.S. Census Bureau, that additional $1,000 prevents as many as 300,000 families from qualifying for home mortgages."
Consumers have some strong support on Capitol Hill. 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 two years, indicating their support for free trade in lumber, and urging no new taxes or penalties on consumers.
Industries that depend on lumber as an input and that oppose import restrictions include: manufacturers of value-added wood products, lumber dealers, manufactured and on-site home builders, and remodeling contractors and individuals. These industries employ more than 6.5 million workers, 25 to one when compared with those in the forestry industry.
Members of ACAH 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.
SOURCE American Consumers for Affordable Homes