U.S. governor wants Canadian lumber tariffs lifted amid potential post-storm ‘price-gouging’

Cedar planks are stacked at a lumber yard, Tuesday, April 25, 2017 in Montreal.
Cedar planks are stacked at a lumber yard, Tuesday, April 25, 2017 in Montreal. Paul Chiasson/CP

Maine’s governor has called for a suspension of tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber to ease prices as families and businesses prepare to rebuild in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma – and with two more months of hurricane season to go.

Republican governor Paul LePage blames “corporate greed” for driving up costs, and says large lumber companies are in the position to “potentially price-gouge distressed Americans.”

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“It is unconscionable that a coalition of businesses is in the position to potentially price-gouge distressed Americans who are in dire need of those products to rebuild their lives,” LePage wrote in an op-ed piece published in the Saint John, N.B., Telegraph-Journal.

His comments drew criticism from Jason Brochu, co-owner of Pleasant River Lumber in Maine, who said the governor shouldn’t be using hurricanes “as a political ploy.”

LePage is especially frustrated over tariffs on softwood lumber that apply for the first time to the Canadian province of New Brunswick, which has been exempt for decades.

READ MORE: Hurricane season 2017: What has passed, and storms that are incoming

He said there is no unfair subsidization of lumber in the eastern provinces, where the lumber trade, he said, “flows almost seamlessly back and forth between Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick.”

Indeed, Maine’s largest landowner is Saint John, N.B.-based Irving Woodlands, and it supplies lumber from Maine to its Canadian mills. Many smaller companies also operate on both sides of the border.

The Maine Forest Products Council, which represents paper mills, sawmills, wood pellet plants, biomass energy plants and loggers, is staying out of the rift because Maine mill owners have different views on the tariffs.

“We’ve tried to stay neutral. We have members on all sides. In general, what we’re in favour of is negotiating some sort of settlement quickly that’s equitable to all sides,” said Patrick Strauch, executive director.

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Some Canadian lumber companies believe demand for lumber after the hurricanes could put pressure on U.S. and Canadian negotiators to ease the tariffs, possibly through a quota or something else.

Negotiations on whether to reduce or ditch the tariffs that are being accrued on Canadian lumber have been taking place for months.

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