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Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. Congress jointly sent a letter today to President George W. Bush, with House and Senate resolutions signed by more than 100 members, urging him to assure that the Administration will protect the interests of consumers and workers from potentially onerous duties being requested by U.S. lumber producers seeking to limit the amount of lumber imported from Canada.
The letter applauded the Administration for letting the Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) expire on March 31. That five-year agreement set quotas limiting the amount of lumber allowed into the U.S. from Canada. Shortly after it expired, the domestic lumber producers filed requests to the Department of Commerce and International Trade Commission asking for countervailing duty and antidumping tariffs that, if imposed, could amount to a 78 percent tax on consumers on every piece of Canadian lumber used in U.S. homebuilding and remodeling.
"It is essential that these cases be handled in a fair and transparent manner, with the interests of U.S. homebuyers and lumber users given due consideration as those of the other parties," the letter urged.
"We are concerned with the potential damage such duties would impose on our economy," the letter said. "They could raise the cost of a typical new home anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000. U.S. Census Bureau data have shown that a price hike of such magnitude could drive nearly 1.2 million households out of the housing market each year, depriving them of the American dream of home ownership."
The letter, signed by a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives led by Senators Don Nickles (R-OK) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Representatives Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the original co-sponsors of the two resolutions, S. Con. Res. 4 and H. Con. Res. 45, which were included with the letter. The resolutions supported the March ending of the SLA, and urges that there not be any new trade restraints on lumber from Canada that would continue to price families out of the housing market, mostly first time homeowners, elderly and those purchasing manufactured housing.
"Clearly, the economic health of this nation relies, in part, on a strong housing market, the letter continues. "Creating arbitrary trade restrictions could weaken consumer confidence and have far reaching effects on this sector of our economy."
"President Bush has made strong statements supporting the important economic benefits that come from free trade and open markets, and has spoken equally strongly about the need for more affordable housing," said Susan Petniunas, coordinator of the alliance of American Consumers for Affordable Homes (ACAH). "Imposing such taxes on softwood lumber is totally counter to those positions. We are optimistic that American consumer interests, when fairly considered, can prevail."
Approximately six million U.S. workers are involved in lumber-using businesses, including home builders, remodelers, lumber dealers, and workers in industries such as wood pallet manufacturers, window frame and bed makers. Workers associated with the consumers of lumber outnumber lumber-producing workers by 25 to 1 in the United States.
The ACAH is an alliance of 15-organizations, representing approximately 95 percent of softwood lumber use in 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, 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.