April 27, 2017 5:35 pm

New Brunswick sawmills say time is of the essence in softwood lumber dispute

New Brunswick sawmills say tough decisions will have to be made regarding a nearly 20 per cent duty on softwood exports to the U.S.

Kevin Godwin/Global News

Softwood lumber producers in the province are stressing time is of the essence when it comes to saving their industry. Most New Brunswick mills are facing U.S.-imposed duties of almost 20 per cent. The 70-year-old family operation Devon Lumber employs about 40 people. It considers itself one of the smaller mills in the province. It deals solely in softwood, and about 75 per cent of its business heads south of the border.

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That means Devon Lumber is facing a 20 perc ent duty on its U.S. exports following this week’s move by the Trump administration. This follows a 35-year Maritime exemption.

The industry is hoping for a quick resolution to this issue with concerns for both employees and customers. “The first few months, we’ll muddle through,” said Brian Trenholm, Devon Lumber’s chief financial officer. “It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be expensive. If this drags on for a long period of time and we can find a negotiated settlement, then people are going to have to make some hard decisions.”

Some hard decisions are already being made with word that Hainesville Sawmill was set to close. Owner Danny Stilwell told Global News he would be taking a pause to see how the tariff situation works out.

Forest NB speaks for the forest industry. It advocates approaching the situation as a collective. “That government, that industry stakeholders, and I mean everybody across the sector,” said executive director Mike Legere. “Whether you’re a private woodlot owner, you’re a marketing board, you’re a contractor, you’re in the supply chain. All the mills, small, medium, large mills make sure we’re presenting ourself with a common voice. We don’t want to be divided and conquered.”

J.D. Irving sawmills receiving a three per cent duty is seen as proof that the New Brunswick softwood industry is not subsidized. “We’d like to see the [U.S.] Department of Commerce recognize that all producers in New Brunswick should be getting the same kind of rate,” Trenholm added. “Quite frankly, I really want to see the Maritime exclusion back and our rate should be zero.”

There’s no word on when negotiations between the two countries will begin.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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