Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Petrified wood. . .

Posted by JJ in The Elephant (Friday November 18, 2005 at 2:24 pm)

Isn’t it about time that we did something about softwood lumber?

It’s an important issue with a lengthy history. Most recently, the United States has placed a countervailing duty on imports of Canadian softwood lumber, levied to counter the effect of unfair subsidies. Since the US has been a growing market for Canadian softwood lumber, the effect on Canadian industry is significant.

The agreement which expired in 2001 was beneficial for Canadian producers and exporters, but there has been no replacement agreement since. The WTO has recently ruled that the new regime of duties levied by the US government meet international requirements. Canadian producers aren’t pleased with the prospect of losing the $4.25 Billion (and counting) recaptured through duties on US goods which the WTO would otherwise have endorsed. Not that such funds would necessarily have gone to the producers.

Naturally, the industry isn’t happy, and bad trading relations are like an open wound for a haemophilliac — they don’t heal themselves.

Which is why the government is taking action. The Prime Minister reports that he has spoken with President Bush this week, suggesting that the government is getting tough.

But I have a strange sense of deja vu. Haven’t I heard this story before?

A few weeks ago, at the Summit of the Americas, the two men spoke on the same subject.

The same scathing attack was part of the Prime Minister’s speech to the New York Economic Club in October.

The two leaders spoke by phone on the issue in September.

Why am I hearing the same story again and again? Maybe because the government has chosen to do so. According to the Minister, Canada intends to stay the course on this issue.

I’m sure diplomatic pressure requires a constant stream; but you’d think Canadians would be less than impressed at hearing this story repeatedly without word of progress. Isn’t anything actually happening that they can speak of? If not, why insult our intelligence with a show of irrelevant bravado or by suggesting that the leaders’ meetings are where the real work is being done on the issue?

And it’s not as though this is a recent effort by the government. This very approach was first reported last November. If harrassment remains a major part of their strategy, they’re starting to look more like the dweeb who hits on the cheerleader every day than the bold defenders of Canada they hope to.

Or maybe they just want to look like they’re standing up to Bush. Has the Canadian government decided to start taking political tips from Venezuela? The tax cuts just announced fit right in with the Chavez method. So does an oil-based economy. Hopefully, the Latin influence won’t extend to the coming election.

It would be nice for the government to report some progress on the issue, instead of pandering to our traditional insecure yearning to get one over on the Americans and our fashionable and irrelevant disapproval of the current President. So far, the government seems content to report that they’re still speaking. That is, frankly, not an accomplishment — it’s the expected minimal maintenance of relations. In the absence of further evidence of progress, this isn’t reassuring. The government’s professed strategy sounds interesting, but will it work? Staying the course is fine, so long as you’re not stuck in port.

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