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New Brunswick hires former U.S. ambassador David Wilkins as softwood envoy

Logs are stacked at Murray Brothers Lumber Company woodlot in Madawaska, Ont. on Tuesday April 25, 2017.
Logs are stacked at Murray Brothers Lumber Company woodlot in Madawaska, Ont. on Tuesday April 25, 2017. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The New Brunswick government has appointed a former U.S. ambassador to Canada as the province’s special envoy on the softwood trade dispute.

David Wilkins served as ambassador to Canada from 2005 to 2009, when George W. Bush was president.

During his term, Wilkins helped resolve an earlier dispute over softwood lumber, which the province says won support from most of the Canadian lumber industry.

“Softwood lumber is an important product that New Brunswick businesses export and American families need,” Premier Brian Gallant said in a statement Friday. “We must continue to communicate this to decision makers in the U.S., and that is exactly what Mr. Wilkins will help us do.”

A lawyer and former state legislator from South Carolina, Wilkins now leads an international law practice group with a focus on U.S.-Canada interests.

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READ MORE: Tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber will hurt jobs, US companies warn

As New Brunswick’s envoy, he will promote business, provide advice to the government and act as a lobbyist in the trade dispute.

“It has always been evident to me that New Brunswick and the United States have a very strong and mutually beneficial trading relationship,” Wilkins said in the government statement. “I am honoured to work in support of that relationship in Washington.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced it would subject Canadian lumber imports to tariffs ranging from three to 24 per cent, saying Canadian producers have an unfair advantage because they can charge less for wood that comes from Crown land.

Provincial governments in Atlantic Canada have warned that the duties could lead to mill closures and lost jobs.

“The duty imposed is unfair, particularly to the employees, families and communities caught in the middle,” said Rick Doucet, New Brunswick’s resource development minister. “I want those families to know that we will continue to bring that message forward at every opportunity, alongside our partners in the federal government.”

READ MORE: Canada threatens trade penalties if U.S. adds softwood lumber tariffs

It’s the fifth time since 1981 that Canada and the U.S. have sparred over softwood, and Canada has prevailed every time it has challenged the U.S. through the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization or in the U.S. court system.

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Last month, New Brunswick called for negotiations to ensure softwood lumber from the Maritimes is granted an exemption from countervailing duties. During previous trade disputes, the region was granted exemptions.

New Brunswick has also set up a task force, assembled from 11 government departments. As well, it has organized trade missions to Europe and China later this year to expand markets for its softwood products.