COLUMNS: Lumber trade deal will hurt small independent producers

Those who didn’t attend the forestry meeting March 16 missed valuable information on the soft wood lumber discussions with the U.S.

For those who didn’t attend the forestry meeting on March 16 you missed some valuable information on the ongoing soft wood lumber discussions with the USA. Russ Cameron president of Independent Wood Producers Association (IWPA) provided an update of the ongoing dispute.

He is in a good position to do so since he has been involved with these negotiations from their inception.

It is bad enough that the IWPA members are taxed along with major producers but they may also be subjected to retroactive fines on lumber already shipped to the USA.

Small independent business don’t have the resources to pay for these kind of punitive fines and Cameron feels many companies may go out of business as has happened in the past.

For example, since 2003 (with major changes to government legislation), 54 of 107 IWPA members have had to close their doors due to the consolidation of “big lumber” and due to being taxed for employing British Columbians to add value to B.C. grown wood fibre in B.C.

As Cameron has pointed out in previous articles, if the small value-added companies are to survive the next Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) the big lumber producers will have to pay the entire cost of retaining their exclusive access to the non-competitive harvest (i.e. their long-term licences).

The tax was designed to make Canadian lumber products uncompetitive and it did that very well.

For six years, Canada applied a 15 per cent tax to U.S. bound value-add products produced by IWPA business.

Maybe it’s time B.C. realized that there are no more job growth prospects in the production of commodity lumber products.

Maybe it’s time Canada negotiated an SLA that will allow the value added sector to survive, grow, and maximize the socio-economic benefit per cubic meter harvested.

The fact is, that as long as B.C. is pricing the public’s non-competitive timber by formula instead of by competition, we will have a problem with the Americans.

We know by now that there will be an American-imposed price to be paid to offset the benefits of tenure, and we know that B.C.’s big lumber companies are willing to pay that price to keep those benefits.

But the time has come for the big tenured processors to pay that entire price.

The IWPA members (who compete for 100 percent of their wood supply) can no longer afford to pay part of the price on their behalf.

As the members point out, they do not have the benefits of long-term tenures and because they are small independent businesses, they can’t pack up and move to the U.S.

The IWPA needs your support and needs the B.C. government to tell Ottawa to negotiate a new SLA that recognizes the importance of small value added business.

When the annual allowable cut is reduced in the Williams lake TSA and big companies anticipate staff reductions, serious thought has to go into where the remaining logs should go to maximize jobs.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.