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Softwood Lumber Imports from Canada: Issues and Events

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Publication Date: December 2006

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL33752

Topic: Agriculture, forestry and fishing (Forests and forest products industry)

Coverage: Canada


U.S. lumber producers have long raised concerns about softwood imports from Canada. They argue that Canada subsidizes its lumber producers with low provincial stumpage fees (for the right to harvest trees). In Canada, the provinces own 90% of the timberlands, which contrasts with the United States, where 42% of timberlands are publicly owned and where government timber is often sold competitively; these differences in land tenure make comparisons difficult. U.S. producers also argue that Canadian log export restrictions subsidize producers by preventing others from getting access to Canadian timber; U.S. log exports from federal and state lands are also restricted, but logs are exported from U.S. private lands. Finally, U.S. producers argue that they have been injured by imports of Canadian lumber. They point to the growth in Canadian exports and market share, from less than 3 billion board feet (BBF) and 7% of the U.S. market in 1952 to more than 18 BBF per year and a market share of more than 33% since the late 1990s. Canadians counter these arguments, asserting that their stumpage fees are based on markets, that the WTO prohibits treating export restrictions as subsidies, and that the U.S. industry has been unable to satisfy the growth in U.S. lumber demand for homebuilding and other uses.

The United States initiated investigations of Canadian subsidies -- a prerequisite for establishing countervailing duties (CVDs) -- in 1982, 1986, and 1991. Subsidy findings led to a 15% Canadian tax on lumber exports in 1986 and a 6.51% CVD in 1992. Canada challenged the CVD, which was revoked in 1994. A 1996 Softwood Lumber Agreement restricted Canadian exports until March 31, 2001. U.S. producers filed antidumping (AD) and CVD petitions immediately after the 1996 agreement expired. U.S. agencies determined that Canadian lumber was subsidized and was being dumped and that the imports threatened to injure U.S. industry. Final AD and CV duties of 27% were imposed in May 2002, although lumber duties were later lowered as a result of annual Commerce Department reviews. Canada filed NAFTA and WTO cases and, with Canadian producers, suits in U.S. federal court challenging U.S. agency actions in the AD and CVD investigations. Canadian companies also filed claims against the United States under the NAFTA investment chapter.

On July 1, 2006, the United States and Canada signed a Softwood Lumber Agreement (2006 SLA) to end the dispute. A finalized version was signed September 12, 2006, and, with subsequent amendments, entered into force October 12, 2006. Among other things, the seven-year agreement provides for the settlement of pending litigation and establishes Canadian export charges, varying by weighted average lumber prices and lower if the Canadian exporting region also accepts volume restraints. The United States has revoked the AD and CVD orders, with at least 80% of the duty deposits being returned to the importers of record. The remaining 20% is being used to fund lumber-related entities and initiatives provided for in the agreement.