COLUMNS: Tweaking the Canada, U.S. softwood agreement

Wome people on both sides of the Canada, U.S. border may say we should scrap the Soft Wood Lumber Agreement.

Some people on both sides of the Canada, U.S. border may say we should scrap the Soft Wood Lumber Agreement (SWLA) altogether but it looks like President Trump’s new speak may tend toward working with what we have.

If you’re an optimist future changes to the SWLA could work to Canadian house manufacturing advantage because it would force us to move from exporting lumber and invest in more tariff free value added products and industries.

A recent CBC article had the following update on the latest moves in the SWLA.

“In 2006, David Emerson — then Canada’s minister of international trade — signed off on a 10-year truce in the Canada/U.S. softwood lumber dispute.

Now, a decade later, Premier Christy Clark has tapped the seasoned civil servant, business executive and former MP to be B.C.’s trade envoy to Washington D.C. representing the province’s interests in the latest round of the long-running trade battle.

Emerson, a lumber trade expert for the Paul Martin and Stephen Harper governments, was CEO of Canfor Corp. — Canada’s largest lumber producer — in the late 1990s.|”

Mr. Emerson will no doubt be joined by industry and other government representatives.

I contacted a number of value added business to see if my perceptions were correct regarding the products and businesses that were exempt from the tariffs in particular prefabricated wall panels.

I got the following comments from President Bill Mascott of Linwood Homes.

“Home packages have a different classification for import duty purpose. The lumber supplied as part of the package is not dutiable provided it is clearly established that it is an integral part of a complete package.

“Linwood actually has its own specific ruling as a certified package supplier distinct from other package suppliers and in any event we use pre-cut materials as part of our package. For these reasons, unless the US changes their whole policy towards the home package industry, we believe our value added approach will maintain its current duty free status.”

He also stated that their export business to the USA is up substantially as there is a major shortage of the skills required in home design as well as a deficiency of customized building materials and components south of the border.

He also thinks prefabricated walls would also be exempt from the current duty applicable under the softwood lumber agreement.

While prefabricated housing units could make substantial gains in the U.S. housing market no doubt the majority of homes will still be on site stick built variety, i.e. a general contractor uses standard lumber and sheeting products and frames the house on site.

A modification of the stick built house is the “Hybrid” approach  which also includes a number of prefabricated components like wall and roof panels.

There is a very informative video produced by Forest Products Innovations of Alberta describing in detail the hybrid approach.

The advantages include more precise construction, faster erection time which means the roof goes on sooner protecting the wood structure  along with less waste of materials.

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