The U.S. Commerce Department's decision today to impose anti-dumping and countervailing duties totaling 29.01 percent on Canadian softwood lumber shipments into the U.S. will harm housing affordability and the nation's economy by acting as a hidden tax on new homes and on millions of workers in lumber-dependent industries, according to the American Consumers for Affordable Homes (ACAH).
"By following the wishes of a handful of U.S. forestry companies, the U.S. Commerce Department's ruling today stands as a slap in the face to millions of American consumers and workers who rely on ready access to Canadian softwood lumber products for housing, furniture, cabinetry and other uses," said Susan Petniunas, spokesperson for the ACAH, an alliance of 17 national consumer groups and companies representing more than 95 percent of the consumption of Canadian softwood lumber in the U.S.
Canadian lumber imports are critical to meeting the nation's housing needs because there are not enough trees available to produce lumber for home building in the U.S. Petniunas charged that today's Commerce Department action makes a mockery of President Bush's public proclamations of support for free trade.
"U.S. forestry companies have argued for more than 20 years that imported lumber is somehow subsidized. They have always lost their arguments before international panels, and this latest ruling won't stand up to scrutiny either. The U.S. must have Canadian lumber to meet its housing construction needs. U.S. forests have been over-harvested and there is no way for domestic producers to meet the demand. Import barriers will simply raise lumber prices and forest company profits, without creating new lumber mill jobs," she said.
If the announced duties are added to U.S. lumber prices, the cost of an average new home would increase nearly $1,500," Petniunas continued. "U.S. Census Bureau figures indicate that such an increase could force close to 450,000 prospective American home buyers out of the market. Additionally, the home building industry employs 6.5 million people. This industry, which has been one of the healthiest segments of the nation's economy, could be seriously harmed by the Commerce Department's decision."
"Trade restrictions on lumber cause artificial price increases and volatile swings in the lumber market, both of which hurt housing affordability," said Bobby Rayburn, a home builder from Jackson, Miss. and vice president and treasurer of the National Association of Home Builders, an ACAH member.
Attention now swings to the International Trade Commission (ITC), which is expected to rule in late April on whether U.S. forestry companies have suffered any harm from Canadian softwood lumber imports.
"We can only hope that the ITC sees through some of the false arguments that use of lumber from Canada comes at the expense of U.S. lumber mills," Petniunas said.
"The types of lumber imported from Canada are different from the type produced from U.S. forests," said Rayburn. "Ask any home builder across the United States-we need Canadian spruce pine fir for wall studs. Southern yellow pine, because it is more likely to warp, is better suited for beams and joists. Framing walls with southern yellow pine just won't work for the homes we want to deliver to American consumers."
In addition to NAHB, ACAH members include American Grassroots Homeowners Alliance, Catamount Pellet Fuel Corporation, 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 Black Chamber of Commerce, National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, National Retail Federation, and the United States Hispanic Contractors Association.