KELOWNA – Forest products are big business in B.C. The sector contributes more than $12 billion to the GDP of British Columbia and employs 145,000 people in the province directly or indirectly.
“Government and industry have a shared interest in making sure the industry remains competitive,” says Susan Yurkovitch, president and CEO of the Council of Forest Industries.
Hundreds of stakeholders from all over B.C. are in Kelowna for the Council of Forest Industries convention, including industry CEOs, customer representatives and politicians.
One hot topic being discussed is the need for Canada to hammer out a new softwood trade agreement with the U.S.
The original softwood lumber agreement was signed in 2006 after years of dispute. It expired in 2015 and Canada has six months to get a new deal in place before the U.S. can launch any trade action.
“Whether the Americans will play ball, I don’t know,” says Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of the Business Council of B.C. “So it’s another challenge the industry is facing. The threat of penalty tariffs for selling into the U.S. which currently don’t exist.”
B.C. Forests Minister Steve Thomson says one positive note is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama have instructed negotiators to “intensively explore all options” and report back to them within 100 days.
“So we see that as encouraging but we’re not naïve to the fact that it’s a very complex set of negotiations,” says Thomson.